Two years after Bernalillo County, N.M., barred local law enforcement from cooperating with immigration authorities, its leaders learned that the policy was being subverted from within. Staff members at the county jail in Albuquerque were still granting immigration authorities access to its database and, in some cases, tipping them off when a person of interest was being released, the Associated Press reports. “I was surprised and horrified,” said Maggie Hart Stebbins, chairwoman of the Bernalillo County Commission. “Individual employees do not have the freedom to pick and choose what they want to observe.” The disclosure cast a spotlight on an often-overlooked way in which immigration officials around the U.S. may be getting around local “sanctuary” policies through informal relationships with police and others willing to cooperate when they’re not supposed to.
Immigration activists say they have seen it places like Philadelphia, Chicago and several communities in California, which has a statewide sanctuary law. “Often people underestimate the informal relationship between ICE and local law enforcement,” said Sara Cullinane of the immigrant-rights organization called Make the Road New Jersey. She said a major way to make sure immigrant-friendly ordinances are being obeyed is training officers about what they can and cannot do. Over 100 local governments have adopted a variety of sanctuary rules barring police and jails from cooperating with immigration authorities, often by refusing to hold people arrested on local charges past their release date at the request of immigration officers who intend to pick them up.