Friday, June 06, 2008

Using local police for immigration enforcement creates sticky, expensive problems for counties

With several Texas jurisdictions hoping to empower local police to enforce immigration laws, I was interested to see this item from Laura Nicholes at the Texas Association of Counties ("Juveniles and immigration reform: What is the counties' role?") detailing problems that result when locals wind up with custody of minors as a result of immigration actions. She writes:

Recently in rural north Texas, a Department of Public Safety traffic stop revealed eleven suspected illegal aliens – ten adults and one juvenile - and resulted in a call to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Since there was a minor on scene, the judicial district’s juvenile probation officer was also contacted. ICE detained the ten adults but refused to accept custody and transport the 16-year-old to their facilities with the rest of the group. ICE officers told the local juvenile probation officer that according to a new federal policy they no longer accepted juveniles into their custody. With no criminal charges alleged against the juvenile (being in the U.S. without documentation is considered an administrative violation) the probation officer had no jurisdiction over the youth so he called Child Protective Services to let them know he needed help with placement. CPS refused to take the youth into their care, saying it was an ICE responsibility. Approaching the time limit for detaining a juvenile without cause, the officer exhausted all local resources and finally contacted the Mexican Consulate in Dallas for guidance. In the end, the county absorbed the tab for the expenses incurred for the youth’s meals, lodging and bus ticket to the Mexican Consulate, as well as the juvenile officer’s time away from his routine duties and case management.

The incident prompted a county judge to ask: what does a local official or law enforcement officer do when nobody is willing to accept responsibility for a juvenile suspected of being in this country illegally? And with the strengthening of immigration reform, will more situations like this occur and place unfunded mandates on local governments?

When asked in a phone conversation if ICE accepts juveniles into their custody, Mr. Reginald Sakamoto, Acting Chief of ICE’s Juvenile, Family and Residential Unit located in Washington, D.C., suggested local law enforcement “follow the directions provided in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 as it applies to unaccompanied alien children.” He said, “Typically, individuals under the age of 18 are processed the same as adults but are treated differently. Each situation involving a juvenile [with questionable citizenship] is handled on a case-by case basis” because there are many variables to consider when determining citizenship and providing for the care and placement of a minor who may or may not have parents or eligible guardians in this country.

That's a lot of resources eaten up as a result of a single traffic stop where no criminal charges will be filed. Such incidents wouldn't have to play out too many times per month to completely overwhelm most departments' ability to handle the volume, particularly for juvenile systems with no place to house non-criminal kids.

TAC couldn't confirm for sure WHAT policy, if any, forbade ICE from taking the juvenile described in the story into custody, but in any event, the feds' said it wasn't the locals' role:
Several contacts with ICE representatives failed to yield confirmation of a new policy (as conveyed to a juvenile officer by an ICE field officer) prohibiting ICE from accepting juveniles into their custody for questioning. However, the Assistant Director of ICE’s San Antonio Field Office, Agent Adrian Ramirez, said “It’s unfortunate that counties are even worrying about this procedure because it’s a federal responsibility.”
RELATED: From the New York Times, "States take new tack on immigration," June 9.


Anonymous said...

Until county sheriffs stop giving ICE space in the county jails and stop declaring their politically expedient wars on illegal immigration, counties ought to quit whining about so-called unfunded mandates. True, sheriffs are elected and the commissioners courts cannot tell them what to do. However, plenty of commissioners courts build large jails in hopes of renting beds to the U.S. Marshal's Service or ICE in order to pay for their jails. Until counties stop insinuating themselves further into immigration enforcement, they ought to quit their bitching.

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)