Guest Editorial: Rob Schofield, Director of NC Policy Watch

Cynical, hypocritical, dangerous: Proposal to force cooperation with ICE is Trumpism at its worst

The nation is more than two years into its destructive dalliance with Trumpism, but new and toxic waves of regressive policy continue to ooze across the national landscape. For a recent and disturbing example in North Carolina, check out proposed legislation advanced by Republicans in the state House last week that would require all of the state’s 100 sheriff’s departments to act as an extension of Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

As Policy Watch reporter Melissa Boughton explained a couple of weeks back, the legislation in question would remove the discretion that local sheriffs have traditionally exercised when it comes to honoring ICE “detainer” requests. As the story explained, an ICE detainer:

…is a request for local law enforcement to hold individuals they believe are not lawful citizens in jail or prison for up to 48 hours until the federal agency can take custody and begin deportation proceedings.

Detainers are not judicial orders signed by any court official, and they are not arrest warrants that require any kind of finding of probable cause. The individuals targeted by detainer requests are typically otherwise eligible for release from jail or prison.”

While some sheriffs continue to honor ICE detainer requests, several – including a group of sheriffs elected to serve in some of the state’s largest counties last fall – have made the intentional and public decision to stop doing so for several reasons, including:

  • Holding someone without probable cause is of questionable constitutionality. (Indeed, as Boughton’s story points out, “There are several court cases clarifying under federal law that ICE detainer requests are discretionary, amount to warrantless arrests and violate the guaranteed protections of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.”)
  • Local government must bear the cost of holding the individuals in question.
  • The sheriffs recognize that close cooperation with ICE – especially when it comes to detaining people without probable cause – tends to undermine their efforts to promote public safety by discouraging community cooperation with their general law enforcement efforts.

This latter point – that mandating close cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE is dangerous to public safety – is one that analysts and advocates have emphasized for many years. The reasoning is pretty simple and obvious: when immigrant community members come to fear that any interaction with law enforcement can lead to a situation in which they or their family members could be detained and deported, they, not surprisingly, tend to shy away from reporting crimes or interacting with law enforcement in any way.

As the Los Angeles Times reported in 2017 in a classic example, reports of domestic violence by Latinx residents declined significantly in several parts of California during the first six months of the Trump presidency in response to anti-immigrant actions and rhetoric. Similar results were confirmed in a 2018 survey by a researcher at the University of California, San Diego.

The hypocrisy embedded in blithely ignoring such a powerful and obvious truth – especially when the ignoring is being done by a group of conservative politicians who have long positioned themselves as “tough on crime” and champions of law enforcement – is striking.

But, then, a similar hypocrisy charge could be leveled regarding the matter of “local control”—another supposed priority of the political right. In a letter spelling out the group’s opposition to the legislation last week, the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association put it this way:

House Bill 370 would compel duly elected sheriffs to participate in a voluntary federal law enforcement program. The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association opposes such a mandate. The people of each county, as reflected by the decision of their elected sheriff, should retain the ability to decide which lawful method they will utilize in complying with existing federal and state law. Just as the Association opposes any state law requirement to participate in the ICE detainer program, it would also oppose legislation prohibiting sheriffs from participating in the ICE detainer program.”

In other words, “Memo to General Assembly: Stay in your lane!”

Ultimately, however, if there’s a most vexing aspect to the House proposal and others of its ilk, it has to be the rank cynicism involved.

Just as the hard truths about Trump, his war on immigrants and what they have meant – to America’s global image, to the causes of freedom and justice, to the resurgence of racism and so-called “white nationalism,” and to the lives of millions of decent human beings seeking a better life – have been there for all to see for some time now, the real world impacts of mandating local cooperation with ICE must ultimately come as no real surprise to the proponents of the legislation.

As in so many other areas, conservative politicians know in their hearts what Trumpism represents and have, despite that understanding, made their deal with the devil in order to abet their short-term political objectives.

The ICE cooperation bill is unlikely to be the last such cynical calculation.

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Rob SchofieldDirector of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. At Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits daily online commentaries and handles numerous public speaking and electronic media appearances. He also delivers a radio commentary that’s broadcast weekdays on WRAL-FM and WCHL and hosts News and Views, a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.
rob@ncpolicywatch.com