Trump postpones nationwide immigration enforcement sweep

A couple who asked not to be identified embrace outside a business in Allen, Texas, during a raid by immigration agents in April. Nearly 300 people were arrested at the CVE Group, a business that refurbishes cellphones.

The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

The Trump administration uses a wide variety of methods to suppress civil liberties. Some are out in the open, such as threatening mass deportations, holding migrant children in cages and flouting the Supreme Court’s decision to not include a question about citizenship on the upcoming census.

Then there are the more insidious encroachments on our rights that happen quietly, attracting little attention and sunlight. Take, for instance, the 27,540 U.S. citizens last year who were interviewed, screened by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and given a determination about whether they are lawfully present based on whether they “appeared” deportable, according to the American Immigration Council.

But what you probably still didn’t know is that the Trump administration is rolling out a program that will circumvent the reach of local agencies in cracking down on undocumented immigrants. This comes in the wake of municipalities and large cities across the country declaring that they will not participate in the 287(g) program — formal agreements with local law enforcement agencies deputizing officers to perform the functions of federal immigration agents — or would not cooperate with ICE to carry out raids in cities.

In May, ICE announced the Warrant Service Officer (WSO) program, “a new collaborative program intended for local law-enforcement that wish to honor immigration detainers but are prohibited due to state and local policies that limit cooperation with the agency.”

The announcement itself, like the program’s overall goal of circumventing local control of law-enforcement activities, is a perplexing and artful combination of bombast and double-speak.

“Policies that limit cooperation with ICE undermine public safety, prevent the agency from executing its federally mandated mission and increase the risks for officers forced to make at-large arrests in unsecure locations,” said acting ICE Director Matthew Albence in a press release. “The WSO program will protect communities from criminal aliens who threaten vulnerable populations with violence, drugs and gang activity by allowing partner jurisdictions the flexibility to make immigration arrests in their jail or correctional facility.”

This statement flies in the face of the fact that scores of law-enforcement organizations have, for years, been saying that local agency cooperation with federal immigration-enforcement operations undermines their efforts to establish open communication and trust with immigrants.

And historical data has confirmed time and time again that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes compared with the U.S.-born. In fact, ICE’s own data show that more than 85% of the people they are deporting had either no criminal convictions or no convictions for crimes classified as violent or serious.

Under the new WSO program, a local law-enforcement agency nominates officers, who then get a background check and — after one day of training with ICE personnel — get federal credentials that “reflect their authority.”

And that’s it. Those officers are then able to serve ICE arrest warrants, even if their agency or organization is “restricted by local policies that prohibit the recognition of immigration detainers.”

Does this sit well with you?

It shouldn’t, because undermining the will and reach of local law enforcement might seem all right if we’re talking about arresting people living in the country without the proper papers.

But it’s a slippery slope. Once powers, policies and protocols are established, it’s easy to expand them — to legal permanent residents, to U.S.-born citizens, even to white people who don’t look or sound like immigrants, for reasons we haven’t even imagined yet.

Where does it end?

Best to stop it before it even starts. Call your legislator and inform them about this program — and about your deep desire for your local law enforcement agencies to have no part of it.

Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group. She was previously a reporter and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.