First ICE Report on Police Who Won't Detain Immigrants Shows How Small the Problem Is

Around 200 refusals, and many of those were merely charged, not yet convicted.


immigration protests
Jim West/ZUMA Press/Newscom

As President Donald Trump ordered in the earliest days of his leadership, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released its first weekly list of law enforcement agencies that refuse to cooperate with orders to detain immigrants in the United States illegally.

ICE's first report covers people released by law enforcement agencies between January 28 and February 3, but the actual detainer requests can go back much longer, even several years. But of the 3,083 requests by ICE to detain immigrants and hand them over to the feds, only 206 requests were declined. And the majority of the refusals were concentrated in a handful of communities, particularly Travis County, Texas, home of Austin.

Furthermore, of those declined requests, slightly more than half the immigrants on the list are people who have only been charged with crimes and not yet convicted. And while some of the charged crimes are very serious and violent (there's a person charged with homicide in Philadelphia), ICE is also trying to detain and possibly deport people charged with much lesser crimes like prostitution and drug possession. They're even trying to get their hands on a Venezuelan in Florida convicted of a traffic violation.

It's also not clear how accurately we should treat the report. A section of the report lists all the law enforcement agencies in the country who have limits or restrictions on how much they cooperate with ICE on detaining and handing over immigrants. The New York Times notes that Nassau County in New York is listed among these agencies, but in fact the county's sheriff's office assures they're very, very cooperative with ICE. In Texas, Williamson County's sheriff said the same thing. He says the four people ICE claims they refuse to detain for them were actually moved to other jurisdictions that subsequently refused to cooperate.

It's the first report of its kind, so perhaps some kinks are to be expected. The numbers may also end up increasing, though it's not clear of the degree. The report introduction notes that law enforcement agencies don't often inform ICE that they're refusing the detainer request, so the report is based on what ICE employees are able to figure out for themselves. This could explain the Williamson County mistake. The report also notes that ICE had previously stopped sending detainer requests to law enforcement agencies with a history of non-cooperation. Under Trump's orders, ICE is going to start sending them requests again. The report notes, "As a result, the number of issued detainers will increase over the next several reporting periods."

So the number of refusals may increase, but that doesn't mean that there's a dramatic increase in crime caused by immigrants here illegally. Keep that in mind (and the fact that many people on the list have merely been charged) when examining future trend coverage of these reports. Evidence shows that immigrants are not major sources of criminal activity.

Read through the report yourself here. Note that a lot of the agencies listed as not cooperating aren't simply flat-out refusing to detain immigrants on ICE's demand. Many require a warrant or a court order of some sort.