Santa Clara County asked a judge this morning to block President Donald Trump’s order to slash funds for local governments that refuse to enforce immigration laws.
The county, which would lose $1.7 billion a year under Trump’s edict, called the executive order unconstitutional. South Bay leaders also challenged the president’s repeated assertions that so-called sanctuary jurisdictions are hotbeds of crime and chaos.
A recently released study found that not only are sanctuary jurisdictions safer, but that their economies are stronger as well. The report by the nonprofit Center for American Progress analyzed data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to compare sanctuary jurisdictions against their counterparts. Here’s what they learned about sanctuary cities and counties:
- On average, 35.5 fewer crimes per 10,000 people are committed
- Median annual household income is, on average, $4,353 higher
- The average poverty rate is 2.3 percent lower
- The average jobless rate is 1.1 percent lower
Tom K. Wong—the report’s author and a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego—concluded that sanctuary policies improve local economies because they keep families together.
“By keeping out of federal immigration enforcement, sanctuary counties are keeping families together,” he wrote, “and when households remain intact and individuals can continue contributing, this strengthens local economies.”
While there’s no legal definition of a sanctuary city, the term generally refers to jurisdictions that choose not to hand over undocumented immigrants to federal immigration agents. One of the ways local governments achieve sanctuary status is by refusing requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to jail inmates beyond their scheduled release dates.
Case law has repeatedly shown that local police have no legal obligation to enforce immigration laws and actually risk legal liability if they do. A number of federal courts have ruled that the practice—called civil detention, or immigration detention—violates the Fourth Amendment and due process rights.
There’s another practical reason for local law enforcement to limit cooperation with the feds. If people trust that police will treat them equally, regardless of immigration status, they’re more inclined to report crimes and cooperate with investigators.
Santa Clara County adopted a policy in 2011 to only honor immigration detainer requests if ICE foots the bill, which it never does. That doesn’t mean the county freezes out federal immigration agencies, however. ICE still has the authority to use national databases to check the immigration status of anyone who’s accused of a crime.
Every time someone’s arrested in any jurisdiction in the U.S., his or her fingerprint data gets shared with the FBI. The FBI, in turn, discloses that information to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees ICE and related agencies.
Though Santa Clara County refuses to hold defendants beyond their court-ordered release date—though there could be exceptions for more serious crimes—the Sheriff’s Office and Probation Department routinely correspond with and work alongside ICE.
According to emails obtained by San Jose Inside through a public records request, deportation agents asked local probation officers for addresses and other information to help track down suspects multiple times in 2016.
Deportation officers from the Morgan Hill and San Jose ICE offices have long worked together with South Bay law enforcement on cases involving unauthorized immigrants suspected of aggravated felonies. Under Trump, however, ICE broadened its enforcement to include even non-criminals and people who had been cooperating with federal agents.
In January and February, officials from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) reached out to Sheriff Laurie Smith to arrange a lunch meeting and talk about sharing the shooting range used by her deputies.
“I am amazed at the unique challenges law enforcement has here in California, so it is good to know we can partner up and rely on one another,” Denise Mar, a San Jose-based HSI agent, wrote to Smith about a week before Trump’s inauguration. “I know I have a lot of work to do to get my agency’s name separated from the immigration image, so I would be more than happy to come out (or have one of the supervisors who works for me come out) to give your troops a little bit more of an in depth overview of who HSI is, what we do and how we can assist.”
Because of the growing number of jurisdictions that refuse to honor immigration detainers, the DHS has tried other ways to improve cooperation with local agencies.
Since rolling out the Obama-era Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) in 2014, the agency says it has had more success working with local agencies. Under PEP, local agencies send fingerprints to ICE, which can then look up jail release dates or addresses registered with local probation officers.
According to Transactional Records Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, PEP has drastically curbed reported detainer refusal rates from local law enforcement agencies. Santa Clara County’s Main Jail went from recording the highest refusal rate in the nation at 88 percent in 2014 to just 4.8 percent by 2015, the university found.
San Jose Inside asked Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Richard Glennon about the dramatic drop, but he offered no explanation.
“Unfortunately, I do not have information related to your request,” he wrote in a Feb. 7 email. “ICE would be a better source to interpret their table.”
ICE spokesman James Schwab, however, never followed up on a call and email for comment. Though recorded refusal rates fell sharply, ICE still fails to secure custody less than 40 percent of the time nationwide.
To read the county's filings in its federal lawsuit, click here. To read the report on sanctuary cities from the Center for American Progress, click here. To watch the county’s press conference about the study, see below.