Data Shows Sanctuary Policies Are Hampering ICE Arrests

By Mark Browne | June 21, 2018 | 12:13am EDT
President Trump hosts mayors and local leaders from communities in California opposed to the state’s sanctuary law, at the White House last month. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Mexico City ( – Cases of local authorities refusing to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention requests more than doubled in the first eight months of the Trump administration compared to the same period a year earlier, according to ICE records.

ICE also issued 81 percent more “detainer requests” to local jurisdictions during that period – from President Trump’s inauguration until the end of FY 2017 – compared to the same period a year earlier, during the Obama administration.

The requests ask local authorities to keep individuals in custody or provide 48 hours’ notice prior to their release. A total of 112,493 were issued by ICE between the day Trump took office on January 20 and the end of FY 2017 (Sept. 30, 2017).

Local authorities, however, more than doubled their rejection of detainer requests between FY 2016 and FY 2017, from 3,623 to 8,170.

“This is the greatest number of declined detainers over the last three fiscal years,” ICE said in its FY 2017 enforcement and removal operations report.

(From Trump’s inauguration until the end of FY 2017, the figure of declined requests was 7,232, compared to 2,267 during the same period one year earlier.)

The impact of sanctuary policies on ICE arrests is also evident in a report released last week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

“Despite this administration's concerted efforts to push for greater assistance by state and local law enforcement agencies, as yet these efforts appear to have had little impact on the number of individuals ICE takes into custody from other law enforcement agencies,” the report said.

A proliferation of sanctuary policies in local jurisdictions has made it more difficult for ICE to carry out arrests, according to Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.

More than 300 jurisdictions around the country have stopped cooperating with ICE by refusing to honor ICE detainer requests, she told

Vaughan cited law SB 54 signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown last year as an example. It prohibits law enforcement authorities from detaining a person at the request of ICE.

The measure does, however, allow local law enforcement to notify and transfer to immigration authorities individuals who have committed certain crimes.

Sanctuary policies have resulted in ICE arresting more immigrants within communities than those being held by local authorities.

“When sanctuary policies prevent ICE from making arrests at jails, then ICE needs to find these people in the community,” Vaughn said.

Arrests in communities, also known as “at-large” arrests, increased from 30,348 during FY 2016 to 40,066 in FY 2017, according to ICE records.

At-large arrests increased “particularly in those areas that do not honor ICE detainers or limit or restrict ICE’s access to their jail population,” the ICE report said.

But overall, ICE at-large arrests have declined dramatically from the levels seen under the Secure Communities program during the Obama administration, according to ICE and TRAC data.

The Secure Communities program required the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to share information about immigrants being held in custody so the FBI could check for outstanding warrants or criminal activity.

At-large arrests peaked under the program during the Obama administration at 322,093 in FY 2011. Then they dropped to 113,391 in FY 2015 and again to 108,372 in FY 2016 after the program was replaced with the Priority Enforcement Program.

The Priority Enforcement Program focused on “individuals convicted of significant criminal offenses or who otherwise pose a threat to public safety.”

At-large arrests increased from 108,372 in FY 2016 to 139,553 in FY 2017, according to TRAC data.

Monthly arrests under Trump represent a “significant increase” compared to FY 2015 and FY 2016, when the Obama administration replaced the Secure Communities program with the Priority Enforcement Program.

Despite that increase, however, the number of ICE “custodial arrests” – arrests of individuals already being held by other law enforcement agencies – was “little changed from levels in October 2014 at the end of the Secure Communities era under President Obama,” the TRAC report said.

“The ACLU and other immigrant advocacy groups have been very aggressive in filing lawsuits, or threatening to do so, with sheriffs’ offices and police departments that cooperate with ICE,” Dan Cadman, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, said in an email to

While some localities have “begun to rebel” against sanctuary policies, Cadman said it’s “not enough to alter the balance at present.”

“I don’t think we will see anything different unless or until the matter is resolved legally, or Congress enacts anti-sanctuary legislation in an immigration reform bill.”

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