Throughout the campaign trail, President Donald Trump promised to go after local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, this after government officials in so-called “sanctuary cities” have repeatedly refused orders to hand over undocumented immigrants to the federal government for deportation.
And because jails are operated by counties instead of cities, the former can have more power over the fate of apprehended immigrants.
Federal authorities face the uphill battle of working with local police to enforce immigration policies, as the law does not require local government officials to detain undocumented immigrants upon the request of the feds. In fact, complying with these requests is treated voluntarily, as federal courts have learned.
This means that a county’s policy of dealing with federal immigration requests determines the level or risk immigrants face of being removed from the country. But as President Trump formally takes office, undocumented immigrants face a higher risk for deportation should his administration push through with their deportation pipeline.
How a Federal Request for Deportation Works
Let’s say a police officer arrests an undocumented immigrant for a violation like a DUI, which has nothing to do with his immigration status. He is sent to the local county jail, where the county sheriff’s office takes his fingerprints for the standard FBI background check.
In turn, the FBI sends this information to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the immigration agency under the Department of Homeland Security tasked to enforce immigration laws. If ICE finds the detainee is undocumented, the agency sends a request called a ‘detainer’ to the county jail, asking that the inmate be held for another 48 hours so they can start removal proceedings.
The Department of Homeland Security has gone on record to state that complying with such requests is voluntary, as detaining someone in jail for extended periods without a warrant is in violation of the 4th amendment.
According to an ICE report obtained by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, of the 168 counties in the country with a high concentration of undocumented immigrants, 69 sanctuary counties declined federal requests to detain arrestees for their immigration status, while 99 counties complied with these detainers. In Texas, estimated to have more than 1.4 million undocumented immigrants, none of its county jails typically refused detainer requests.
President Trump and Jeff Session, his nominee for attorney general, have taken a hard line stance on sanctuary cities, promising to withhold funding if they continue to resist federal requests for undocumented immigrants. But other than rhetoric, it remains to be seen just how the Trump administration will go about doing this.
If you or a loved is concerned about how potential changes to Texas immigration policies under the Trump administration, we encourage you schedule a consultation with the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Contact our offices at (512) 215.5225 to speak with immigration law attorney Daniella Lyttle.