Homeland Security officials on Monday unveiled a list of law enforcement agencies that refused to detain immigrants arrested for crimes in the United States so that the federal government could deport them, a sign of a looming Trump administration crackdown on sanctuary cities nationwide.
Federal officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in a conference call with reporters, said the list was not an official compilation of sanctuary cities. Instead, it was a snapshot of law enforcement agencies that refused to honor a total of 206 detainers issued by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3.
The list shows that cities and towns are failing to help immigration authorities deport potentially serious criminals, including people arrested or convicted of drunk driving, aggravated assault, and homicide, the Homeland Security officials said.
Advocates for immigrants say it is unconstitutional for local police to detain someone for a civil deportation proceeding when the judge in their criminal case has ordered them released on bail.
But the federal officials called the refusal to cooperate a “clear public safety” risk and said the number of cases will rise as the Trump administration targets a broader group of immigrants for deportation.
“There are some very serious crimes for which we asked the law enforcement agencies to turn over to us and they failed to do so,” an immigration official said during the call.
The National Immigration Law Center estimates that approximately 600 jurisdictions limit their cooperation with ICE. Avideh Moussavian, a staff lawyer at NILC, said police often cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies on criminal matters, but emphasized that immigration violations are civil, not criminal.
“They’ve created this totally false narrative that somehow local law enforcement is obstructing their work because they’re not holding people when the local law enforcement authorities have no basis for holding that person any longer,” Moussavian said.
President Donald Trump ordered Homeland Security to compile the list of noncooperative agencies and cases in his Jan. 25 executive order intensifying deportation efforts.
The order included a particular focus on deporting criminals, and said jurisdictions that don’t cooperate with such efforts violate federal law and “shield aliens from removal from the United States.”
He said the jurisdictions are putting American citizens at risk by releasing criminals who should be deported, and who in some cases have committed additional crimes after getting out of jail.
In the order, Trump also instructed Homeland Security to draw up a list of sanctuary cities that ignore immigration detainers so that the administration can deny them federal funding. Officials said Monday they hoped that list would not be necessary and that cities and towns would change their policies, as some jurisdictions have done recently, and cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.