Revving Up the Deportation Machinery: Enforcement under Trump and the Pushback

by Randy Capps, Muzaffar Chishti, Julia Gelatt, Jessica Bolter, and Ariel G. Ruiz Soto

The Trump administration has significantly cranked up the immigration enforcement machinery in the U.S. interior, with arrests and deportations up about 40 percent in its first eight months over a year earlier. Yet pushback from California and other locations with “sanctuary” policies makes it quite unlikely that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be able to match record enforcement levels.

ICE arrests and removals during fiscal 2017 were about half their peaks during the early Obama years, before that administration significantly narrowed its enforcement priorities.

This report caps a year-long study that took MPI researchers to 15 locations across the United States, some fully cooperating with federal immigration enforcement and others not. There they interviewed everyone from senior ICE field leaders to state and local elected officials, immigrant-rights advocates, former immigration judges, and consular officials. The researchers also analyzed ICE enforcement data obtained via Freedom of Information Act requests.

The study finds that the engine that fueled ICE’s peak effectiveness—the intersection of federal immigration enforcement with state and local criminal justice systems—is being throttled by state and local policies that limit cooperation with ICE. Nearly 70 percent of ICE arrests in the early Trump months originated with local jails and state prisons, a sizeable share that is nonetheless down from more than 85 percent in fiscal 2008-11.

Beyond sanctuary policies, the report finds growing resistance at other levels. Some cities are changing policing practices to reduce noncitizen arrests, such as decriminalizing driving without a license. Immigrant advocates are conducting more “know-your-rights” trainings, teaching people they do not have to open their doors to ICE. And others are mobilizing to monitor ICE operations in the field, or increasing funding for legal representation for those facing removal hearings.


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