Media and public attention on immigration enforcement has become vital in light of the Trump Administration’s continued impact on the news cycle.
The President’s announcement during his joint address to Congress in February that he was open to ‘compromise on immigration reform’ may not be a deliberate distraction from ongoing developments in enforcement and detention, but it attracted significant media attention that might otherwise have been turned elsewhere.
Among the substantive immigration enforcement developments that this and similar high-profile public announcements from the White House pushed out of the headlines were the increasingly aggressive actions of ICE agents themselves, who appear after the reversal of Obama-era discretion policies to be making symbolic arrests that sow fear among immigrant populations.
Some of these arrests seem tailor-made to communicate the message that literally nowhere is safe.
That undermines any sense of security that might be taken from sanctuary cities or sanctuary campuses. Perhaps more importantly, the arrests undermine the participation of undocumented immigrants (and, frequently, their US citizen children) in constitutionally protected human rights like public education and public safety.
This widespread sense of fear and insecurity compounds two other current issues regarding immigration control: the enormous and growing backlog of federal immigration cases—in a context where immigrants will now be nearly universally subject to mandatory detention while asylum and other immigration cases are under review; and the now-public efforts of DHS to quickly and significantly expand detention capacity by as many as 20,000 beds.
That suggests John Kelly, head of the Department of Homeland Security, expects a nearly 50% increase in the current “average daily population” (ADP) of 41,000 immigrants in detention on any given day.
Such an expansion will not only represent a windfall for private/for-profit detention providers like CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America) and the GEO Group, but also for the county sheriffs who operate local jails with spare beds that can be leased to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through intergovernmental service agreements (IGSAs) for what is often a lucrative per diem fee.
This phenomenon will likely be especially pronounced in jurisdictions along the US-Mexico border, where the ending of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) “catch-and-release” policy will mean yet another influx of new detainees.
Another key question is how the new hardline approach will work in counties where the 287g agreement is no longer in effect. One example: Alamance County in North Carolina.
The Alamance County Sheriffs’ Office (ACSO) lost its 287g agreement in 2012 in the midst of federal civil rights litigation alleging racial profiling of Latinos under the auspices of the program. Thus, signing a new 287g with the ACSO would be a clear repudiation of Obama-era enforcement policy.
Such repudiations are arguably the Trump administration’s stock-in-trade across a whole spectrum of policy arenas, but the symbolism of entering an enforcement agreement with a jurisdiction previously under investigation for civil rights violations would be particularly telling.
The Alamance County Sheriff, Terry S. Johnson, appears in many of his public statements to be an ideologue in the mold of some other sheriffs previously covered in this series, if somewhat less outspoken. Perhaps the most significant differences between Alamance and the other jurisdictions we have examined are demographic. Alamance, with a population of about 150,000 has had a large and growing Latino community since the 1990s—accounting in the last census for over 11% of the county’s population.
From the perspective of those fighting the current administration’s immigration policies, the cancellation of its 287g agreement makes it an important jurisdiction. Its 287g was ended through the intervention of a tool—federal civil rights litigation—that is unlikely to be available to advocates under the current administration.
What other kinds of litigation or approaches to grassroots organizing remain possible in the face of an emboldened immigration enforcement apparatus? That has yet to be tested, but a renewed 287g agreement in Alamance County would arguably represent an attack on civil rights and constitutional protections necessitating an early test of these strategies.
Using the format I applied in previous profiles of “jurisdictions to watch,” here is a closer look at Alamance County.
ALAMANCE COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA
Terry S. Johnson, a Republican, has been Alamance County Sheriff since 2002, and is currently under consideration for an appointment to the US Marshals Service under the Trump administration. Johnson, who was accused under the Department of Justice’s 2012 investigation of the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) of referring to Spanish speakers as “taco eaters”, “received support [for his appointment] from every sheriff in the other 23 counties in the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina.”
The Department of Justice brought suit against Johnson himself (rather than the ACSO as a whole) in 2012, after he categorized the DOJ’s findings in their initial investigation as “completely false. ”In what was then a first for the DOJ’s civil rights actions against law enforcement agencies, the Department lost its case against Johnson in 2015, with US District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder finding that the government had not proved its argument.
While the DOJ originally appealed the verdict, it dropped that appeal in August of 2016.
ARRESTEES PROCESSED FOR DEPORTATION UNDER 287G
280 in 2012. That number is significantly lower than the annual average of 355 that the ACSO achieved in the five preceding years of 287g enforcement, and it likely reflected the pressure that the ongoing DOJ investigation put the department under.
Alamance County’s population of 150,000 was 11% Hispanic or Latino according to the 2010 census. So if most of the arrestees processed for deportation were Latino county residents, around 2% of this community was directly affected on an annual basis. Given the likely indirect effects of this enforcement on children, partners, other family members, and the community at large, Alamance’s immigrant population may have long been familiar with the level of stress and uncertainty currently being experienced by immigrant communities nationwide.
ACTIVE IMMIGRANT DETENTION FACILITIES
The Intergovernmental Service Agreement through which ICE contracted with the Alamance County Jail to provide bed space for immigrant detainees appears to have been rescinded along with the county’s 287g MOA in late 2012. At its 2010-11 peak, however, its average of 45 immigrant detainees would have made up 15% of the jail’s average daily population of 300. As recently as 2016, the ACSO shuttered a 76-bed detention center “annex” as a cost-saving measure; as discussed above, there is a clear incentive to monetize this excess bed space under the Trump administration’s expansion of detention capacity.
AVERAGE DAILY POPULATION (ADP) OF IMMIGRANT DETAINEES
The Alamance County Jail held an average of 29 immigrant detainees on any given day throughout 2012. This represents a significant drop-off from the approximate ADP of 89 when the county first signed its 287g MOA in 2007. With a per diem of $61, the ACSO’s detention and related operations yielded $2.6 million from ICE that year – $1.87 million for detention, and $730 thousand for transportation.
Alamance’s reduced 2012 ADP indicates a partnership going out of favor in the face of the DOJ’s ongoing civil rights investigation. Under these reduced circumstances, ADP income would likely have been cut by over 50% from documented 2007 levels ($71 x 29 detainees x 365 days) to $750,000 for detention alone. Alamance’s 2007 IGSA gives us the ability to further estimate a proportional income from transportation of $275,000 (730k/541 = $1,350 per detainee in 2007, or $1,565 x 176 total detainees in 2012).
Thus even under DOJ investigation, Alamance probably cleared $1 million in funding for detention and transportation of deportable immigrants. Interestingly, the total funding that could be directly attributed to Alamance’s enforcement activity under 287g—about $1.64 million ($71x 280 processed for deportation x 60-day average stay = $1.2m, + 280 x $1,565=$440k)—is in fact 60% higher than the amount the recorded ADP suggests, illustrating the clear budgetary importance of maintaining the appearance of unbiased enforcement under the Obama-era DHS.
HISTORY OF 287G IN ALAMANCE COUNTY
Alamance County entered into its 287g enforcement agreement in 2007, as part of a wave of several North Carolina jurisdictions that joined that year. The ACSO’s original 287g memorandum of agreement was an agreement for jail enforcement only, adding a cautionary note to statements by other 287g-supporting sheriffs that jail enforcement agreements are intrinsically safer than street enforcement agreements or comparatively free of bias.
The crux of the DOJ’s case against Johnson was research indicating that Latinos in Alamance County were significantly more likely than other ethnicities to be stopped at ACSO roadblocks and for minor traffic violations, and more likely to be arrested rather than warned or cited when stopped. This largely replicated the enforcement patterns cited in criticisms that characterized 287g task-force agreements as biased and reliant on profiling.
The material difference between task-force and jail-based 287g agreements lies in the fact that interrogation about immigration status takes place within the confines of the county jail in the case of the latter, and in the public view for the former. This difference does not inoculate jail enforcement agreements from patterns of arrest intended to yield higher numbers of detentions and deportations.
CONTEXT OF CONTINUED IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT UNDER 287G IN ALAMANCE COUNTY
As discussed above, whether under Sheriff Johnson during his remaining time in office, or under his successor at a later date, the reentry of an emboldened Alamance County Sheriff’s Office into the 287g fold would represent a clear symbolic break from Obama-era cautions around profiling-based immigration enforcement by local jurisdictions.
To renew an agreement with Alamance would arguably represent an implicit statement—at most hinted at in Trump’s January 25th Executive Orders and the follow-up Kelly memo—that racial profiling and other forms of biased enforcement would be tacitly acceptable for local jurisdictions acting in support of the administration’s stated detention and deportation goals.
Even in the context of an emboldened ICE and an increasingly indiscriminate immigrant detention and deportation regime, this tacit approval of unconstitutional policing practices would represent a new and extreme departure from established professional law enforcement standards.
It would also be a redirection of the federal civil rights apparatus (encompassing both the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security) that has long been tasked with supporting them. Advocates and other close observers may well be expecting this departure, but would do well to keep an eye on Alamance County to see if it is confirmed.
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 dstageman(at)jjay.cuny.edu. Other articles in his series are archived on The Crime Report: Etowah County, AL; Frederick County, Md.; and Orange County, Ca.; Read Dr. Stageman’s introduction to the series, “Where Will Trump’s Deportation Force Strike Hardest?” here. Readers’ comments are welcome.