But the collaboration between different levels of law enforcement has hit roadblocks in the past. Take the Secure Communities program, which originated in the George W. Bush administration. Under the program, local authorities shared digital fingerprints of people booked in jail with the feds, who could then screen a national database to see if any matched with individuals suspected of immigration violations. Over time, however, the program appeared to drive a wedge between local authorities and the communities they served. The Obama administration ended it in 2014, citing backlash from governors, mayors, and state and local enforcement officials.
When it comes to his promised immigration policies, the president-elect has already faced backlash of his own. From the public, but also from mayors and governors—like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy—who’ve pledged to limit cooperation with federal immigration agents during the Trump presidency. I spoke with Su to get a sense of how state and local governments might process the president-elect’s proposals. Our conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Priscilla Alvarez: Donald Trump has pledged to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. What does this proposal mean for state and local governments?
Rick Su: I think it has tremendous implications only because interior enforcement of immigration in recent years has been extremely dependent on state and local participation. …
If we are going to be talking about the kind of numbers that President Trump is interested in, he will need, in some ways, some degree of participation—unless he wants to greatly expand federal enforcement agencies. He would need state and local participation in order to accentuate the numbers that he wants. But because of their involvement, states and localities have also been developing their own interests and policies on immigration.
Alvarez: What’s an example of the effect that federal immigration policies have on state and local law enforcement?
Su: The collapse of Secure Communities would be a good way of looking at it. And this wasn’t dramatic involvement [of non-federal and federal law enforcement]; these weren’t like the Bush administration raids [some of which, controversially, took place at people’s workplaces]. These were supposed to be behind-the-scenes, in the booking process and the detention process. …
At first, I think, it was considered to be very innocuous, very in-the-background. I think what ended up happening is, as you had more and more accounts that during any encounter with police departments—whether as a victim, as a witness, or maybe as a perpetrator or a suspect—they would screen you automatically for immigration status, you started having a lot of local police departments, local police chiefs express concerns that that was making it more difficult for them to reach out to the communities that they want to help and protect.