Partnerships between federal immigration agents and local police have boomed in 2017 – growing to a whopping 60 agencies in 18 states, according to a large batch of new contracts recently posted on Immigration and Customs Enforcement‘s website.

Eighteen Texas sheriffs departments are now approved to partner in ICE‘s so-called 287(g) program – by far the most agencies of any state.  By comparison, only three Texas departments partnered with ICE in 2016 – and Harris County, the largest of the three, dropped the program earlier this year citing costs and civil rights concerns.

Officers from all of the new partner agencies – including Galveston, Montgomery and Waller County sheriff’s offices in the Houston suburbs – will receive additional training and computers they can use to cross-check immigration data banks for people who are arrested and processed in local jails for anything from a traffic ticket to murder.

Other newly-approved Texas partners include rural sheriffs whose turf runs along a major highway corridor that stretches south from Houston to the US-Mexico border.

The 287(g) partnerships, a program under which ICE provides training to teach local officers how to consult its data banks and how to question detainees about their immigration status in local lock-ups, had declined under President Barack Obama.

But the partnerships have attracted renewed interest particularly from Texas agencies under pro-detention and deportation policies announced by President Donald Trump.

Texas is Working Closely With ICE to Detain Immigrants

ICE held a ceremony in Grapevine, Texas Monday to mark the milestone.  Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan shared the stage there with several Texas sheriffs signing new contracts.

“I’m proud to stand alongside these sheriffs who are taking decisive action to join ICE in an important effort to enhance the safety of their communities,” Homan said.  “By partnering with ICE’s 287(g) program, each of these counties will be able to identify criminal aliens in their jails and turn them over to ICE, once their criminal process is complete. It is common sense partnerships like these that help law enforcement achieve our mutual goals, and I’m encouraged by the increased interest from law enforcement professionals who seek to join this program and protect public safety.”

The partnerships get their name from section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act that authorizes them. Local sheriffs who applied for the program in 2017 said they were excited about getting additional help to screen inmates for potentially dangerous immigrants or fugitives and better protect public safety. In an interview, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said his agency may send as many as 10 officers for training and tools needed to “confirm who individuals are before we release them” and determine whether they’re wanted by federal immigration agencies or anyone else.

Texas now has by far the most partnerships of any state with 19, including Carrollton Police Department, which already had an older ICE contract. By comparison just three Arizona law enforcement agencies currently have 287(g) partnership. Only the Orange County Sheriff’s office currently partners with ICE in California. Copies of the contracts can be found online.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzales still honors ICE detainer requests, but no longer dedicates 10 deputies to the county’s jail-based ICE partnership full-time at an annual cost of $675,000.

Nationally, the program has grown from 38 departments in February to 60 as of Friday, based on ICE contract postings. By comparison, ICE noted in a press release that only six new agreements had been added between 2012-2016 and more expansion is planned.

The ACLU had urged ICE not to approve the applications of many of those Texas departments. ACLU lawyers and other civil rights advocates have argued that ICE’s detainer program even without additional local law enforcement already leads to civil rights violations and wrongful detentions and deportations through data mix-ups and errors.

Civil rights attorneys have raised concerns about Texas jail conditions and noted that several of the 287(g) partners – including Montgomery County – separately earn income from housing ICE detainees through detention contracts, giving agencies a profit motive to find reasons to detain more people longer.

Astrid Dominguez, immigrant rights strategist for the ACLU of Texas, said Friday she doesn’t believe that having local law enforcement do ICE work will make communities any safer.

She said she worries the partnerships

“will divert resources from essential public safety.”

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