How to Undo Trump’s Egregious Immigration Policies? Go Local.
By Lena Graber, Senior Staff Attorney, Immigrant Legal Resource Center
President-elect Biden has promised to undo the Trump administration’s egregious immigration policies, which will not be easy to do on the federal level. For starters, Trump’s anti-immigration views have been embraced by many, including those who will remain in power when Biden takes the oath of office.
Also, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has built its entire immigration enforcement machine on the backs of local and state criminal legal systems, and that will not change overnight. But it is the choices of local policymakers and local law enforcement that will continue to drive the way immigration enforcement proceeds over the coming years.
In the face of racist and punitive federal immigration laws, there have been many success stories of local and state agencies working to empower and protect their immigrant residents. The Immigrant Legal Resource Center has chronicled these ideas and policies in a new guide: “Local Policy Interventions for Protecting Immigrants.”
As the Trump administration has been dismantling every piece of our immigration system other than the walls and the detention centers, many cities, counties, and states have pushed back with whatever local power they have, which is considerable. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has made local governments, and especially local law enforcement, into the dragnet of the deportation machine, but cities and counties can take important steps to ensure that they do not serve as a pipeline to deportation. No federal law requires local law enforcement agencies to assist with immigration enforcement.
Local and state laws can and do protect immigrant communities in many ways, and localities can learn from each other new and better interventions. For example, in San Antonio, Texas, organizers are fighting mass incarceration and mass deportation by promoting citations over arrests for minor offenses to keep people from being put in custody, building off the Freedom Cities resolutions that Austin enacted in 2018. The newly elected Los Angeles district attorney is developing guidelines to ensure the prosecutors guard against the “double punishment” meted out by the immigration system after someone has served their state criminal sentence. Montgomery County, MD, has enacted a policy against allowing ICE to interrogate people in local custody, a deceptive practice that has also been fought off in Chicago and New York and then in multiple state laws. The state of Colorado banned probation officers from facilitating immigration arrests at probation appointments.
Polls show that there has been a shift in how the majority of Americans view undocumented immigrants, with many supporting efforts to help them gain citizenship while remaining in the U.S. Likewise, after a summer that particularly highlighted the violence and abuse that the criminal legal system inflicts on black and brown communities, there is renewed energy in reducing the scope and power of local law enforcement. Local policies restricting involvement with ICE and reducing arrests reflect these shifts, and many of these reforms also illustrate the power of local organizing that brings together immigrant rights and criminal justice efforts.
Our Local Policy Interventions guide catalogs the concrete examples local jurisdictions have taken to respond to the hateful, racist polices that have emanated from the federal government and some states over the past four years. We hope this resource will guide more local governments on how to set policies that help their immigrant communities.