Arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement have risen dramatically in some jurisdictions. But in other places, “sanctuary” policies, or local measures designed to protect immigrants, are slowing them down, according to a report released by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, DC-based think tank, on Tuesday.
The federal government is officially in charge of enforcing immigration policy, but over the years it’s enlisted local authorities to help by transferring immigrants who land in state prisons and local jails to ICE. These days, though, officials in many jurisdictions are feeling less cooperative. So, ICE arrests have gone up much faster in some areas than in others. Here are the top and bottom three ICE field offices:
Immigrant arrests are up more in some areas than in others
(The city names refer to the location of ICE field offices, whose geographic scope can vary from a single metro area to several states.)
The disparity of local policies has created what MPI’s Muzaffar Chishti, one of the report’s authors, calls a “Swiss cheese of immigration enforcement.” In some areas of Georgia or Tennessee, for example, an undocumented immigrant who’s stopped by police for missing a stop sign can be sent to ICE and eventually deported. In places such as Chicago or San Francisco, an individual who’s been arrested for more serious crimes doesn’t have to worry about being transferred to the federal government by local officials.
“The fate of an unauthorized or otherwise removable immigrant depends on where he is apprehended, not on what he has done,” Chishti said during a presentation of the study.
MPI also looked at the overall numbers of arrested immigrants by how they came into ICE custody during Donald Trump’s first 135 days in office—the group could only obtain data for that period through a Freedom of Information Act request. It shows that immigrants transferred from local jails accounted for the bulk of immigrants picked up by ICE, but that share has shrunk from previous years. Meanwhile, federal officials relied more on arrests they made themselves.
At-large immigrant arrests make up a bigger share under Trump
Trump is constrained by how much he can increase both types of arrests in the future. Though he has the authority to order ICE agents to take in as many immigrants as are in the US illegally, he doesn’t have the funds to do that. Despite his zeal to enforce immigration laws, arrests only went up slightly faster in the stretch analyzed by MPI than during the same period the previous year, when Barack Obama was president: 24% vs. 21%.
Arrests that resulted from transfers by local authorities grew slightly slower, by 69% compared with 70% the previous year. Although the majority of communities in the US are not sanctuary jurisdictions, some of the country’s biggest cities—and the whole state of California—are. They make up a large swath of the undocumented immigrant population. Consider the number of immigrants referred by local authorities to ICE’s Los Angeles office. It covers the LA metro area—home to about one million undocumented residents alone—and a few other surrounding counties, but it only got about 2,300 transfers during Trump’s early months.
The Los Angeles area has been sending fewer immigrants to ICE
All of the above means that Trump is unlikely to snatch the title of “deporter in chief” from Obama. Although the former president softened his approach to immigration enforcement during his later years at the White House, he got that moniker from immigration advocates who condemned the record level of deportations at the start of his administration.
The Trump administration ignored the objections and has been ending the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program anyway, according to a report prepared by Democratic staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and obtained by USA TODAY.
Embassy officials in all three countries concluded that the three governments were incapable of absorbing the return of so many people, according to the report, which was first reported by The Washington Post.
In Haiti, U.S. officials said repatriating 46,000 of its people who have been legally living in the U.S. would strain the ability of the Haitian National Police to maintain control of the struggling nation.
In El Salvador, embassy officials said returning 195,000 people to a country already struggling to provide enough economic opportunities would likely accelerate the flow of illegal immigration headed north.
In Honduras, U.S. officials said 57,000 people coming back would become targets of crime, and recruitment, from the very same gangs that the Trump administration is spending so much time fighting against.
And in each case, the cables warned of possible backlash from the host governments that would likely limit their willingness to cooperate with U.S. officials on illegal immigration, anti-drug operations and other regional problems.
"The diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassies in El Salvador, Haiti and Honduras each recommended that it would be in the 'U.S. national interest' to renew the TPS designations for their respective countries," the report concluded.
Yet one by one, the Department of Homeland Security — in consultation with the White House and the State Department — have been ending TPS for each of those countries. All told, the administration has announced the end of TPS for six countries, which represent 98% of the 317,000 people who have used the program to legally live and work in the U.S. for decades.
The report said former secretary of State Rex Tillerson was aware of all those warnings but "ignored a body of evidence" when he recommended that the program be phased out. The report also said the White House "sought to repeatedly influence the decision-making processes" at State and Homeland Security "in order to ensure a pre-determined outcome."
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led the inquiry and said Tuesday that he is requesting an investigation by the Government Accountability Office.
“I will fight against this cavalier-recklessness that would jeopardize our national security simply to fulfill a campaign promise and pursue an agenda of mass deportation that tears families apart, and separates mothers and fathers from their U.S. children," Menendez said.
Complicating things is the fact that TPS holders have given birth to 273,000 children while in the U.S., making them U.S. citizens, according to the Center for Migration Studies. That means their parents will have to decide whether to return to their home country with their U.S. citizen children in tow, return to their home country alone and leave their children behind, or stay in the U.S. and face the constant threat of deportation.
The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Temporary Protected Status was created by Congress in 1990 to allow people from countries hit by natural disasters or armed conflicts to legally live in America while their home countries recover.
Republican and Democratic presidents have extended these protections, concluding that each of the countries on the list had not recovered enough to absorb tens of thousands more residents. The Trump administration has taken a different approach, arguing that the program has been extended too many times and that conditions have improved enough in each country to end the emergency designations.
The president's supporters have cheered each decision by repeating a common phrase: "T" is for "temporary." Defenders of the program say that cold calculation may be accurate, but ignores the hundreds of thousands of families who will be devastated if they must leave the U.S., where some have lived for nearly 30 years.