Our president-elect has vowed, over the past year or so, to deport some number of immigrants, illegal and otherwise. The number seems to continue to fall as reality settles upon Trump tower but we're still talking about millions of humans. I've been at the sharp end of this particular stick and I'd like to share some of my recollections and thoughts:
First of all, what Trump is talking about doing – the deportation of criminal illegal aliens – is nothing new. Ya'll that have been around here long enough will remember a federal program called 287(g). This program allowed localities, under specific guidelines negotiated with the Federal Gov't, to place "immigration detainers" on people who had been arrested for a specific set of crimes and who were determined to be here illegally. Under the agreement, ICE would train locally-provided officers on how to do the background research on ICE-provided computers.
In Manassas, there was some discussion about this program when I was first elected. Jackson Miller was the main proponent but I thought it was a good idea as well so I supported it. Jackson was hot to trot about Manassas having our own ICE program but the "best practice" for this program was to do all of this screening where you process folks who were arrested so we struck a deal with the County to have a 287(g) program at the Jail. I think that ultimately the County and the City had their own 287 agreements but we never did anything with them – the jail was where this all took place.
To get the ball rolling, we reached out to ICE and indicated that we were interested and they came out and met with us. That was an interesting meeting. The ICE guys explained a lot about the program – to start with they were like "we ain't deporting everyone you can lay your hands on". Period. ICE was interested in deporting people who are both here illegally and who had committed a felony. The City pushed back somewhat on including folks who were chronic offenders…10 drunk in public arrests or DUI, that kind of thing. The ICE folks agreed with that. We were talking about deporting illegal aliens who had committed serious crimes, sound familiar?
An interesting tidbit from that meeting: there is now and there was then this mantra around "ship their asses home". It ain't that simple. Many times their home country doesn't want them back. We're like, "hey, we're bringing some of your people back" and the home country is like "you kids stop crank calling me!….<click>". So those people with immigration detainers end up sitting in an ICE facility for some fair amount of time. Not an argument either way, just a fact. The ICE guys did allude to at least occasionally putting these folks on a plane and landing without permission and chasing everyone off the plane but that seemed like a pretty extreme situation. If you think about the logistics of landing a large airplane at any decent airport, you'll agree that it's a bad idea.
The other thing to remember about 287(g) is that most of the cost is borne by the locality. The officers who did the immigration research and processing were paid for by local taxpayers, not the federal government. It also takes a lot of time for officers to process these folks. I think the Chief indicated that helping process an immigration detainer took an officer off the street for four (?) hours. We also have to house those folks for some amount of time – ICE doesn't just swing by with a bus and whisk everyone away. Illegal aliens or not they are tried and, if convicted, served their time before they were handed over to ICE for deportation….and it could be weeks before ICE came to get them after they were notified. After all, they have similar constraints in terms of jail space that we do.
At the end of the day, our local 287 program was very successful. County-wide, we handed hundreds and hundreds of criminals over to ICE for deportation. I've lost track of what the program looks like now but the Obama administration watered it down several times – first it was "Secure Communities" and then "PEP". The upshot of both of those seems to be that the Feds removed the locals from the process and now only deport whatever people they see fit to deport. That's too bad because the old program worked very well. I expect that if Mr. Trump is serious about deporting illegal aliens his program will end up looking more like 287(g) and less like PEP…or maybe have elements of both. Just remember, whatever action the Feds take, it is going to cost local tax dollars at some point.