In an escalation of local law enforcement agencies’ participation in immigration enforcement, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency on Monday announced it had struck 18 new partnerships with sheriff’s departments in Texas.
The announcement is a notable development in the Trump administration’s efforts to ramp up its deportation apparatus, following memos from the Department of Homeland Security in February announcing that it would expand a controversial ICE program that had largely fallen into disuse under the Obama administration.
ICE’s 287(g) program establishes agreements with local law enforcement agencies, allowing them to deputize officers as immigration agents and enforce federal immigration law. In recent years, the federal government had allowed most of the previously existing agreements to lapse without renewal, leaving roughly 38 participating law enforcement agencies by the time President Donald Trump took office.
“ICE plans to continue this higher rate of expansion in the coming year, as resources allow,” the agency said in a statement. The 18 new counties bring ICE’s total to 60 287(g) agreements across the US, with a total of 1,822 state and local officers authorized to enforce federal immigration law.
Since the Trump administration announced it would revive the program, ICE has reported a surge in interest from police and sheriff’s departments.
While ICE and the participating law enforcement agencies argue the agreements are essential in ridding communities of criminal immigrants, critics have decried the 287(g) program as a gateway for law enforcement officers to engage in racial profiling and civil rights violations.
The 287(g) program was notoriously used in Arizona’s Maricopa County formerly run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and in 2011 was canceled due to alleged discriminatory policing practices. Arpaio was eventually voted out of office last year, and on Monday was found guilty of criminal contempt of court for willfully violating a court order to cease detaining suspected unauthorized immigrants.
Some Texas sheriffs have also previously spoken out against the program, arguing that it saps local resources and their officers could be put to better use. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez of Harris County, for instance, canceled his department’s 287(g) agreement in February – a move that he said saved $675,000 of taxpayer dollars per year, and freed up 10 sheriff’s deputies who had been working with the program.
Gonzalez left in place his department’s policy to cooperate with ICE requests to detain suspected unauthorized immigrants, however, and saw no subsequent decrease in the amount of detainers issued in the month following the cancellation of the 287(g) agreement, the Houston Press reported.
The amount of detainers issued held steady at roughly 1,000 per month, prompting questions of how effective the 287(g) program had been in the first place.