How Trump’s Budget Undercuts Local Immigration Enforcement

Police and sheriff's departments around the country stand to lose millions in federal aid under the president's budget proposal

Photo Illustration: Tara Jacoby, Source Image: Getty
Mar 17, 2017 at 4:49 PM ET

As the Trump administration seeks new spending to ramp up deportations, police and sheriff’s departments around the country stand to lose millions in federal aid used for immigration enforcement.

Buried in the White House budget released on Thursday is a plan to eliminate a Justice Department program that reimburses local governments that jail undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes. The proposal, estimated to save $210 million this year, would be a blow to so-called sanctuary cities, which the president has vowed to punish for their refusal to fully cooperate with federal deportation officers. But the sweeping cuts would also hobble dozens of jurisdictions that have embraced Trump’s tough stance on immigration, including those who wish to work more closely with federal agents.

“We’ve been a good partner with federal immigration authorities,” Michael Hernandez, a spokesman for Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, told USA Today. “We expect them to be good partners with us.”

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Miami-Dade County in January became the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to shed its sanctuary status after Gimenez ordered his jail to comply with Trump’s new immigration orders and begin turning over all undocumented detainees requested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Following the controversial decision — which sparked county-wide protests, national headlines, and even a shoutout on Twitter from the president — the mayor said that the federal government should continue to pay for the detention of illegal immigrants.

Gimenez’s Florida county received nearly $1 million in federal reimbursements for jailing undocumented immigrants last year, Justice Department figures show. Trump’s budget, however, now calls for the end of these types of payments, which are distributed through what’s called the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.

Local jails that detain undocumented immigrants who committed one felony or two misdemeanors for at least four days have been eligible for these reimbursements — aimed to help offset the high cost of immigration detention — since the program started in 1994. Hundreds of counties and law enforcement departments qualify for these federal grants each year.

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But the Trump administration called the program “poorly targeted,” perhaps because most of the money goes to states and jurisdictions that have openly vowed to defy the president on immigration. The state of California, which has taken unprecedented steps to fight deportations under the new president, received more than $50.6 million in reimbursements last year, while the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — which maintains that immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility — collected another $6 million. New York City, which doubled down as an immigrant sanctuary after Trump’s election, received $10.5 million through the program.

Still, some of the president’s staunchest local supporters on immigration enforcement also stand to lose out. The state of Texas, whose Republican governor and conservative-led legislature are working to ban sanctuary cities statewide, received more than $9 million. Meanwhile, more than 100 Texas counties and sheriff’s departments racked up millions more in federal reimbursements for handling the detention of undocumented immigrants.

Then there is Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, whose department has bucked the trend of most law enforcement agencies in California. Hutchens has told the Trump administration directly that she wants her department to cooperate more closely with federal agents to crack down on illegal immigration. Her county took in a cool $1.5 million last year for its work with detaining undocumented immigrants. As for this year? That’s as good as anyone’s guess.