Terminating the 287(g) and ICE detention programs in Tulsa County
ACTION – Allied Communities of Tulsa Inspiring Our Neighborhoods — a coalition of congregations and other civic institutions working to make Tulsa a better place to live — calls on Tulsa County commissioners to end their partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by terminating their 287(g) and detention contracts with the federal agency.
The 287(g) program, under which selected Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office (TSCO) detention officers are empowered to perform certain immigration duties, expires on June 30, 2019. It is through its operation of the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center (DLM) that TCSO participates in the 287(g) program. The jail also has a contract with ICE under which the county dedicates up to 200 beds to hold immigrant detainees, many of whom are brought from other jurisdictions. Revenue the county receives from these operations does not appear to fully cover costs incurred by the programs, and Tulsa County taxpayers cover the shortfall.
ACTION has discussed the programs with Sheriff Vic Regalado, has reviewed publicly available information, has listened to stories of people in our community, and has concluded that our county would be safer and stronger financially if the 287(g) and the detention programs were terminated.
To protect public safety effectively, local law-enforcement agencies need cooperation from the community. Local residents serve as witnesses, report crimes, and otherwise assist law enforcement. The foundation of this cooperation is undermined when local law enforcement is seen as an extension of the immigration system, making the immigrant community mistrustful of law enforcement, thereby hindering crime reporting, crime prevention, and crime solving. Immigrants become more vulnerable to victimization including sexual violence. Sheriff’s officers paid by local taxpayers give their attention to federal immigration activities rather than local law enforcement. The result is diminished public safety.
Separation of families does not occur just at the border. It happens here in Tulsa every week. ICE deports people whose only offenses are traffic violations or misdemeanors, some deported after having lived in our community for more than a decade. When Oklahoma Highway Patrol officers deliver undocumented immigrants to DLM, they frequently book them without completing the charges, or the Tulsa County district attorney may drop the charges, knowing that the individual will be subject to an ICE hold for unauthorized entry. This results in some immigrants being deported without any criminal charges. Some deported under 287(g) are charged with or convicted of felonies, but their cases can be handled in the court system without 287(g).
Lost Economic Contribution
In the majority of cases, the undocumented are income-positive members of society. It makes no economic sense to deport these people. Deportation is especially impactful when the arrestees are family breadwinners, forcing remaining spouses to rely on other family members or local charities for their subsistence. When remaining spouses also are undocumented, they likely will not take advantage of social-service programs that would benefit their U.S.-born children for fear of deportation. Spouses who are citizens or otherwise documented are more likely to be thrust into poverty and, with their children, become dependent on government-assistance programs. Impacted families suffer psychological injury associated with family dissolution.
Currently, TCSO officers question all individuals arrested and brought to them by local law enforcement and try to ascertain the nationality and immigration status of those arrested even though this is not required by state law. Undocumented immigrants also can be identified through fingerprinting. If a detained person is not a U.S. citizen, that person may be sent to ICE for interrogation and become subject to an ICE detainer, or ICE “hold.” Once a person is subjected to an ICE hold, at local taxpayer expense, it is unlikely that he or she will be granted bond. That person is kept in jail for the duration of his or her pre-trial and sentencing phases, often a month or longer. Similarly situated non-immigrants would be allowed to post bond and gain release back to their families and jobs while awaiting their court dates.
ACTION understands that it costs about $60 per day to house an inmate. TCSO charges ICE $69 per day for inmates held under ICE auspices after being booked into the jail by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, the Tulsa Police Department, the U.S. Marshals Service, or by TCSO officers. The expense of holding undocumented immigrants during their pre-trial and sentencing phases is borne by Tulsa County taxpayers. Payments from ICE don’t begin until the prisoner is administratively transferred to confinement under ICE auspices. Tulsa County would be under no obligation to hold these people were it not for the 287(g) contract.
The county may be profiting from ICE detentions, but it is losing money on the 287(g) contract. Whether there is a net gain or net loss between these two programs is difficult to determine from county records, which should be more transparent.
Sheriff Regalado tells ACTION the programs provide significant revenue but that complying with ICE booking and detention standards is onerous. ACTION applauds his efforts to secure alternative revenue so jail operations can become sustainable without ICE.
There are more than 23,000 counties and municipalities in the United States. Fewer than 80 of them participate in the 287(g) or ICE detention programs. Some municipalities that participated in the programs dropped them after incurring net losses, assessing exposure to or incurring damage from lawsuits, or both.
ACTION concludes the county should opt to leave immigration enforcement to the federal government and focus its resources on local matters. Time and money spent on immigration enforcement detracts from the performance of the sheriff’s core law-enforcement duties. County-administered immigration enforcement does not advance local priorities because it often targets people who pose no threat to the public, and the criminal-justice system is capable of addressing serious threats without it. Also, immigration enforcement is expensive, and the federal government generally does not reimburse the full costs of local programs.
Because the social, practical, and financial deficits of these programs are so great, ACTION calls on Tulsa County commissioners to terminate the 287(g) contract when it comes up for renewal in June, and also to terminate the companion ICE detention agreement.