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Big city police chiefs, mayors troubled by Trump immigration order, police union and sheriffs untroubled

Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to retired and active law enforcement personnel at a Fraternal Order of Police lodge during a campaign stop in Statesville, N.C.  The union endorsed Trump and helped him craft his new immigration policy. (AP /Gerald Herbert)
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UPDATE: The Fraternal Order of Police issued a press release Thursday saying it “welcomes (Trump’s) action on sanctuary cities.” It is embedded at the end of this post. The response from the National Sheriffs’ Association has also been added.

President Trump’s executive order revamping the federal government’s approach to illegal immigration sent tremors through the law enforcement community Wednesday night. Cities and counties with significant immigrant populations have long felt that tolerating immigrants who don’t break the law is the best way to maintain good relations with their residents and limit crime. But Trump’s declaration of essentially a no tolerance policy for illegal immigrants, combined with threats to withhold federal grants from jurisdictions that act as “sanctuaries,” sets the stage for conflicts with the big cities Trump presumably is trying to help with his order, titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, representing more than 1,400 cities with populations over 30,000, issued a joint statement Wednesday night with the Major Cities Chiefs Association, representing 63 large police departments, saying that they had “strong reservations with provisions to withhold federal funds” and that Trump’s order “does not provide a clear definition of what constitutes a sanctuary jurisdiction.” The two groups called on the new secretary of Homeland Security and new attorney general to meet with them “to discuss these issues and develop an approach to immigration enforcement that does not interfere with strong police-community relations or place inappropriate burdens on local police officers, and upholds our nation’s immigration laws.”

Though the Trump administration did not consult with the big city chiefs before announcing the new policy, officials with the national Fraternal Order of Police officers’ union and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, representing 18,000 departments of all sizes, did meet with the Trump transition team, both groups said Wednesday night. The IACP did not have an immediate reaction to Trump’s executive order.

But the police union was largely untroubled by the new policy, in part because it carved out an exception to the withholding of funds from sanctuary cities and counties “as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the attorney general or the secretary” of homeland security. Jim Pasco, the executive director of the FOP, said penalizing the safety of citizens for the policies set by politicians was dangerous, but the exception for law enforcement purposes was helpful.

“We’re actually heartened,” Pasco said, “by the fact that the administration appears have taken our concerns to heart and they’re reflected in the executive order.” The FOP endorsed Trump in the recent election.

On Thursday, the National Sheriffs’ Association, representing over 3,000 county sheriffs who oversee 85 percent of the nation’s jails, offered a hearty endorsement of Trump’s policy. “We think the president’s initiatives are long overdue,” said Jonathan Thompson, the association’s executive director. He applauded the planned addition of 10,000 immigration agents to assist in processing illegal immigrants out of the jails, as well as increasing the use of the “287(g)” program to deputize local law enforcement to handle federal immigration. “We are holding between 250,000 to 500,000 people who are serious criminal aliens,” Thompson said. “We’re certainly optimistic that the president not only gets it but supports it, and that he will follow through with his promises.”

The statement by the mayors and police chiefs said that “the U.S. Supreme Court has held that denying federal funds to cities to coerce compliance with federal policies may be unconstitutional.” New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Boston, Chicago and San Francisco are among many jurisdictions which consider themselves sanctuary cities, and officials said they didn’t know how widely a Trump administration might withhold federal funds if they maintained their policies.

D.C., other sanctuary cities defiant in the face of Trump’s threats

While Pasco acknowledged the concern that immigrants may not report crime or cooperate with police if they fear being arrested, “that’s kind of a double-edged sword. The other side is if there’s criminal activity in that community, including actually being in the U.S., what do you do? You can’t just throw out a whole body of law because one day you might need a violator to go to court for you.” He said that “no cop on the beat with a good heart is arresting people who report crimes to him. Police officers use common sense every day in deciding whether to arrest or ticket someone.”

He said local police officers would not resist enforcing federal law if ordered to do so. At present, some police and sheriff’s departments participate in the 287(g) program, which deputizes local officers and deputies with federal authority, grants them access to immigration databases and enables them to refer illegal immigrants to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Trump’s order calls for the Department of Homeland Security “to authorize state and local law enforcement officials…to perform the functions of immigration officers” to detain illegal immigrants.

Pasco said the resistance from big city police chiefs is “a management issue. Police chiefs are not free agents. They report to the councils and boards who hire them. Whatever they might personally think, they’re going to articulate the position of the elected officials, and their politically correct position against enforcing the immigration laws.”

FOP President Chuck Canterbury issued a press release Thursday echoing Pasco’s support for exceptions to the federal fund withholding for law enforcement purposes and supporting increased immigration enforcement. “We do need to encourage cooperation between all levels of law enforcement,” Canterbury said, “to ensure that arbitrary policies do not put a dangerous person back on the streets.”

One reason illegal immigrants weren’t always detained and deported was because there simply weren’t enough federal immigration agents to process them. Trump’s order calls for the hiring of 10,000 more immigration agents. To reduce the number of potentially deportees to a manageable number, and to maintain good relations with the immigrant community, federal officials instituted a policy of only detaining and deporting immigrants convicted of serious crimes. Trump’s new policy expands that group to those charged with any crime, even if it has not been resolved; those whose acts might constitute a crime; those who have engaged in fraud on the government; and those who, “in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”

At present, immigrants only face possible detention after they are arrested for any offense, not for random street checks. Those who are convicted of serious crimes, and are in the country illegally, are then turned over to ICE. But many jurisdictions do not recognize detainers filed by ICE because they are civil actions, not criminal warrants requiring detention. “ICE detainers,” the mayors’ and chiefs’ statement said, “do not provide sufficient legal justification for detention, arrest and incarceration by local officers.”

Trump’s order calls for publication of a regular ICE document called “Declined Detainer Outcome Report” listing those jurisdictions who have refused to turn over prisoners. “Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States,” the order states, “willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal.”

In addition, Trump’s order called for the immediate termination of the Priority Enforcement Program and reinstitution of the Secure Communities program. Both programs enabled local jails to provide names of illegal immigrants convicted of crimes to ICE, but the Secure Communities program was felt to be too wide-ranging by many police officials, and Priority Enforcement was put in its place in 2014.

“I’m disappointed,” said J. Thomas Manger, chief of the Montgomery County, Md., police and head of the Major Chiefs, “because Priority Enforcement was designed after long discussions with local police about our interests. That is, retaining the trust of the immigrant communities, not having the immigrant communities afraid of contacting the police. It really struck the right balance.”

Manger said “the vast majority of police departments in this country are cooperating with ICE, but are refusing to do immigration enforcement themselves. It’s always been a federal responsibility.” He said the chiefs association “is just fundamentally opposed to using federal funding to try and coerce our local policing. But it’s their prerogative to do it.”

There are some jurisdictions, Manger said, “who have trained their folks in 287(g). If that’s what those jurisdictions want to do, fine. But ninety-plus percent want to strike that right balance between getting bad people out of the community and making sure you’ve got people living in your jurisdiction who will cooperate with police.”

Manger said Trump’s policy poses serious problems for jurisdictions with large immigrant populations such as his, where he said one out of three residents were not born in the U.S. “If we alienate the immigrant community,” Manger said, “we’re sunk.”

Here is the FOP’s press release from union president Chuck Canterbury: