The Immigration Crackdown: Can Hardline Sheriffs Be Stopped?

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Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

Federal policy on interior and border immigration enforcement is moving quickly. What I had originally envisioned as a set of “jurisdictions to watch” is fast becoming a set of templates for imagining the range of possible approaches to enforcement under the proliferation of new 287g agreements that seems likely to arise under the DHS’ stated intention to pursue them aggressively.

In earlier essays for The Crime Report, I examined the challenge facing immigration activists who oppose the new policies, and focused on Orange County in California.

The leaked February 17th enforcement memo written by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly (and later released officially ) leaves us with a great deal of unanswered questions, primarily centered on the agency’s specific plans for implementing the broad strokes of Trump’s January 25th executive orders.

While the Kelly memo is less sensational than the earlier leaked memo detailing plans to utilize National Guard troops to support enforcement activity in a handful of Western states, its contents have the potential to be every bit as momentous.

If not more so—since they are relatively easy to put into effect.

Perhaps the most momentous statement in the memo (and the competition for that distinction is indeed sharp) comes early on, in the first sentence under Section A.

The President has determined that the lawful detention of aliens arriving in the United States or otherwise described in section 235(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), pending a final determination of whether to order them removed, including determining eligibility for immigration relief, is the most efficient means by which to enforce the immigration laws at our borders.

Hiding within this seemingly innocuous statement is an explicit mandate for an unprecedented expansion of the nation’s detention infrastructure, an expansion likely to bring every prison bed back online (and then some), emptied in the painstaking nationwide efforts to reduce mass incarceration.

It is likely to have even more profound effects on parallel efforts to reduce jail populations as well.

This effect may well be most keenly felt at and near the U.S.-Mexico border, where the ending of Customs and Border Protection’s longstanding “catch and release” policy will result in the immediate introduction of an entirely new population into detention. It remains to be seen how much additional bed space will be required in short order to make these new policies a reality, but we can safely make a few assumptions:

  • The vocally pro-enforcement ranks of front-line ICE agents (and their CBP colleagues) will begin enforcement of these policies with a zeal in marked contrast to the resistance with which they met the Obama-era discretion policies that the Kelly memo rescinds in their entirety;
  • The budgetary requirements of this immediate expansion of detention space will require congressional attention (whether in the overall annual budgetary process or an emergency allocation specific to the administration’s immigration enforcement priorities); and
  • The expansion will result in a bonanza for private/for-profit detention providers and administration-friendly local jail authorities alike.

Numerous commentators have singled out the important role local authorities like elected prosecutors  play in maintaining the momentum of criminal justice reform efforts in the Trump era. The importance of elected county sheriffs to the future of immigration enforcement is a significant parallel.

Frederick County in Maryland may be a bellwether.

The recent history of the jurisdiction and its outspoken longtime sheriff, Charles A. “Chuck” Jenkins suggests why. A random sampling of recent news reports on Jenkins, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, and its approach to immigration enforcement might give the casual observer highly contrasting ideas about the purpose and effects of its 287g participation, depending on whether one turned up the news of the department’s recent outreach to Hispanic community groups, or the criticisms of some of those same community groups regarding its patterns of enforcement.

A more systematic examination of Sheriff Jenkins’ public statements on immigration, however, reveals him to be an immigration ideologue. His April 19, 2016 public testimony before the House Judiciary Committee makes that clear:

The effectiveness and value of local law enforcement partnering or at least simply cooperating with ICE is beyond measure to local public safety. Failure to cooperate and detain known criminal aliens for ICE has led to American citizens being killed, wounded, injured, and sexually victimized in jurisdictions everywhere. […] It is my belief that if this Congress and the next President do not take action to close and secure the border with Mexico and simply enforce the federal immigration laws that exist, every county in America will become a border county. [emphasis added]

In sharp contrast to the more measured, evidence-based, public safety-oriented approach position outlined by Sheriff Todd Entrekin of Etowah County, Alabama (as profiled in my last entry), Jenkins chooses to align his public stance with the absolutist language (“everywhere”, “every county”) deployed by President Trump throughout his campaign, constructing the narrative of an immigrant crime-wave.

That is  wholly unsupported by evidence, but it signals a commitment to nativist ideology and the policy priorities that accompany it. This contrast adds important context to the key characteristics that qualify Frederick County for inclusion in this series:

  • All the “Jurisdictions to watch” covered in my analyses have operated consistently under the same chief executive since before the Obama administration’s efforts to reform 287g. In most cases, this means that the same individual who signed the jurisdiction’s first 287g memorandum of agreement is still making the relevant executive decisions about involvement in immigration enforcement moving forward.
  • They are (with few exceptions) county law enforcement agencies headed by elected sheriffs;
  • They have started deportation proceedings for significant numbers of immigrant arrestees under their 287g programs in the past;
  • They have clear incentives for directly involving their officers in immigration enforcement. While these incentives are often political, they are often financial as well, with direct income and/or indirect ‘economic activity’ arising from close ties to private/for-profit immigrant detention facilities located within the jurisdiction, and/or Intergovernmental Service Agreements (IGSAs) under which ICE pays the jurisdiction a per-day fee to detain immigrants in the local jail.

Frederick County fulfills all four of these criteria.

A scenic view of Frederick County. Photo by Preservation Maryland via Flickr

Even while posting 287g processing numbers that appear moderate next to some of the larger, more immigrant-heavy jurisdictions under review. Frederick County is a potentially important jurisdiction for immigrant advocates because of the possibilities that it raises for working with other levers of local political power to keep in check the worst impulses of a sheriff who is apparently approaching 287g enforcement under the assumptions of nativist ideology.

While leaning Republican, Frederick County is not necessarily an ideological stronghold. Sheriff Jenkins’ support there, while widespread, is not universal. Perhaps more importantly, Frederick County transitioned in 2014 to a County Charter Government, meaning an elected County Executive – currently Democrat Jan H. Gardner – holds approval power over his budget.


SHERIFF: Charles A. Jenkins.

Jenkins, a Republican and public supporter of the far right Tea Party movement, was first elected sheriff in 2006—in part on the strength of campaign promises to “crack down” on unauthorized immigrants – following the retirement of his predecessor James W. Hagy.

Jenkins followed through on those promises with the signing of Frederick County’s first 287g agreement in 2008, and has since won reelection twice, in 2010 and 2014. An early supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign, Jenkins has frequently commented  since the election on the 287g program, on local law enforcement detainer policies, and on the Trump administration’s approach to ‘sanctuary cities’.

Thus far, he has been careful to distinguish his department’s jail-enforcement agreement from the street-based, task-force agreements rescinded by the Obama administration in 2012, stressing that his officers do not engage in “show me your papers”-style enforcement. It will be interesting to know if his rhetoric on this distinction changes once the renewal of 287g task-force agreements is a matter of public DHS policy.


138 in 2012—a number just into three figures and lower than many other 287g counties but proportionately significant for Frederick County’s population of 245 thousand (8.7% of whom Hispanic or Latino). Also of particular note is the statistic in the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office 2012 Annual Report stating that, of the 1,136 detainers lodged in the program’s history up to that point, only 9.5% (108) were “encountered and arrested for felony offenses.”  The figure throws into question Sheriff Jenkins’ repeated statements about not engaging in street arrests on the basis of immigration status.


The Frederick County Detention Center appears to be a purely administrative distinction applied to immigrants detained in the Frederick County Jail, among its general population bed capacity of 348. Its average daily population (ADP) of 54 immigrants would thus account for some 16% of the jail’s general population, or 12% of its total population of 439.


The Frederick County Jail held an average of 54 immigrants on any given day throughout 2012. Per diem/per detainee compensation was $83 in 2007 . Assuming a 3% annual increase and consistent ADP, a conservative estimate of 2016 gross receipts for detention in Frederick County would be $2.2 million ($112 x  54 detainees x 365 days).  A significant proportion of this total, about $930,000 ($112 x 138 processed for deportation x 60-day average stay)—or around 42%—could potentially be attributed to enforcement activity under 287g.


As detailed above, Frederick County entered into its current 287g enforcement agreement in 2008, fulfilling Sheriff Jenkins’ campaign promise to do so. Assuming its growing population of immigrants from Mexico and Central America features a proportionately growing undocumented community, the political/ideological value of Jenkins’ vocal anti-immigrant stance could well be rooted in the anxieties of the county’s core voting demographic of longtime white residents in reaction to the changing character (rural to suburban, agricultural to residential, growing diversity) of the community.

Jenkins’ 63% 2014 reelection victory, despite the controversies dogging his department in prior years, would seem to bear out this view.  Indeed, Jenkins himself attributed his victory to “old Frederick”.


Frederick County bears a very different demographic profile from the overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly Republican, Etowah County, making it impossible for Sheriff Jenkins to pursue an aggressive approach to 287g enforcement in a vacuum.

The vocal support the Sheriff’s immigration enforcement activities received from the prior County Commissioner have not been matched by the current elected County Executive; and if immigrant detention in the Frederick County Jail has significant budgetary implications for the Sheriff’s Office and the County overall, so do the liability concerns raised by enforcement activity rooted in profiling.

Jenkins has not signaled a willingness to take on the perspective of a law enforcement professional to discuss the evidence-based merits of immigration enforcement as a public safety tool. Thus, the levers available for preventing or mitigating the harm likely to be caused by a ramped-up approach to 287g enforcement in Frederick County are distinct from the kinds of approaches that might bear fruit with a less ideological actor like Entrekin.

These approaches are legal and political. They rely on the reality that Jenkins is not a fully independent decision-maker in his role as Frederick County’s chief public safety officer. Consistent pressure on Frederick County’s budget, and the political fortunes of its elected decision-makers, may serve to rein in the darker impulses of an ideologue like Jenkins, who would otherwise appear likely to take the freest possible hand allowable under the Trump administration’s new approach to local immigration enforcement.

Daniel Stageman

Daniel L. Stageman, PhD, is Director of Research Operations at CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He is also a criminologist whose scholarship focuses on making sense of America’s punitive approach to immigrants. He can be contacted at Readers’ comments are welcome. This is the second in his series of profiles of “jurisdictions to watch” on local immigration enforcement under the new policies promulgated by President Trump’s January 25th executive orders. Next up: Alamance County, North Carolina.



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