Bed space was so hard to come by inside immigrant detention facilities across the country last fall that federal officials scrambled to rent out extra room in county prisons and jails. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration-enforcement arm, had thousands more immigrants in custody than it had the capacity to detain. As a result, hundreds of Haitian immigrants wound up wherever there was open jail space, often in remote regions like the Yakima County jail in eastern-Washington state and far from where they were first apprehended at the southern border.
The federal immigrant detention network was bursting at the seams even before President Donald Trump entered office. Those problems will likely exacerbate after the president vastly expanded the pool of immigrants up for deportation. The Obama administration put in place a solution that is already proving beneficial to Trump: a blueprint on how to outsource immigration enforcement to local cops, leveraging their resources and infrastructure to execute Trump’s proposal to detain and deport millions of undocumented immigrants who have “criminal records.”
In January, Trump signed an executive order on immigration enforcement that included measures to ramp up a program known as 287(g), which deputizes local law enforcement officers to double as federal immigration agents. Once trained, local officers are authorized to interview, arrest, and detain any person who may be in violation of immigration laws. Thirty-eight law enforcement agencies are currently collaborating with ICE, according to the government’s latest figures. But a report released by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in December found that the overwhelming majority of the 2,556 counties surveyed didn’t need formal programs: They were already offering assistance to ICE.