Why Sheriffs Resist Trump’s Federalization Drive

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Sheriff Scott Berry is the highest elected law-enforcement official in Georgia’s rural Oconee County, where President Trump got 67 percent of the votes. Berry is on board with Trump’s push to deport some 3 million undocumented immigrants, but his county shows the limits of the White House’s efforts to ask police to serve as de facto immigration agents, reports the Christian Science Monitor. That’s because, like many other sheriffs, Berry argues that turning his department into a deportation force would run counter to his constitutional oath. “I don’t care which federal agency it is, they can have one of my inmates as long as they come and pick them up in time,” says Berry. But “when we’re dealing with people [in the community], where you came from is of no interest to us. The federal government does what they do – and we do what we do.”

The sheriff’s blunt assessment poses a stark challenge for a president who vowed on the campaign trail to “federalize the police” to do immigration work. Law enforcement and border security are different jobs, experts say. One reason local police departments may resist informing the feds about someone in custody: They don’t want victims deprived of their day in court. The administration’s focus so far has been on publicizing the release of undocumented immigrants from jails in sanctuary counties. The Trump administration’s vow to enjoin local cops to root out undocumented people has begun to push cops to confront the complex intersection of policing, federalism, and funding. A list of counties in 24 states who refused to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement this year “is obviously the first step [of attempting to federalize local police],” says Rick Su, an immigration law expert at the University at Buffalo. “Even if the administration is serious about recruiting more cooperation with local law enforcement, they would probably do better by negotiating and having local law enforcement at the table than trying to shame and sort of hammer them into cooperation.”

 

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