President Donald J. Trump has ordered federal agents to clamp down on unauthorized immigrants and step up deportations of people in the country illegally.
Trump’s statements and his administration’s written orders have frightened unauthorized immigrants and energized opponents in Idaho and elsewhere. But questions remain about how, when or even if all of the estimated 45,000 immigrants who are in Idaho illegally will be deported.
One thing is sure: For now at least, the four biggest law enforcement agencies in the Treasure Valley won’t be knocking on doors to help federal agents round up and deport them. The agencies say it is business as usual, and the new federal orders will not make them de facto immigration officers.
Here’s what each agency told the Idaho Statesman:
Boise police: “Boise Police Department has not received any requests or directives from the federal government regarding the enforcement of immigration laws,” spokeswoman Haley Williams said. “As a city police department we place a high value on building relationships between police officers and the communities they serve. Local police acting in the capacity of an immigration officer is counter to those efforts.”
Ada County sheriff: “The Ada County Sheriff’s Office policy manual states that deputies ‘shall not arrest foreign nationals for undocumented presence,’” said spokesman Patrick Orr. “… We reviewed the Homeland Security documents, and they do not affect our current practices in connection with Immigration and Customs Enforcement cases.”
Canyon County sheriff: “Canyon County Sheriff’s Office does not run immigration status checks during contacts with citizens,” said spokesman Joe Decker. “ … Canyon County Sheriff’s Office does not detain or arrest based on immigration status alone.”
State police: “Idaho State Police takes direction from Idaho’s governor, and as of this date our governor has not directed us to change our procedures concerning traffic citations or other issues regarding undocumented residents,” said spokesman Tim Marsano.
A spokesman for Gov. Butch Otter said the governor has not received any request from the Trump administration for enforcement help.
“The governor has also said on numerous occasions that the federal government needs to enforce the laws we currently have, and that would go a long way toward securing our borders, which is their responsibility,” spokesman Jon Hanian said.
These comments followed two memos issued Feb. 20 by Department of Homeland Security to change the way the federal government enforces immigration laws. Here’s a Q&A about those.
Q: What are the changes?
▪ More enforcement: Federal agents are to step up efforts to identify, detain and quickly deport unauthorized immigrants.
▪ More border security: The government will build a wall along the southern border with Mexico and increase detention facilities along the border. How this will be paid for is not yet clear.
▪ More agents: The new protocols call for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to hire 10,000 more agents and for Customs and Border Protection to hire 5,000 more agents. How these will be paid for is not yet clear.
▪ No military involvement: The instructions do not call for using National Guard troops to help with enforcement, an idea that several media reports said was considered by the White House but not used.
Q: Who is affected?
A: The vast majority of the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. could be at risk for deportation.
The Obama administration, which deported 3 million people, made deporting convicted criminals its top priority.
According to one of the Homeland Security memos, the new rules make deportation a priority for people here illegally who:
▪ Have been convicted of or charged with, or could be charged with, a crime.
▪ Have been fraudulently receiving public benefits like food stamps.
▪ Pose “a risk to public safety or national security.”
The directives also call for federal agents to start deportation proceedings for any other unauthorized immigrants they come across.
Q: Isn’t being in the country without authorization itself a crime?
A: Not necessarily. People can be in the country without authorization one of two ways: improper entry or unauthorized presence.
Illegal entry, like crossing a border undetected or giving immigration officers false information, is a crime. It is a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and $250 in civil penalties for the first illegal entry, more for subsequent re-entries.
Unauthorized presence occurs when someone enters the country legally on a travel, work or other visa but fails to leave when the visa expires. This is a federal civil offense, not a criminal one, unless the the person has previously been deported. Civil penalties typically include deportation or removal and a ban on legally gaining re-entry for a set time.
A 2006 Pew study found that about 45 percent of people lacking authorization to be in the country entered legally on a visa but then overstayed.
Federal immigration laws are typically enforced through civil proceedings conducted by the Department of Homeland Security, not in court, unless a crime has occurred, such as re-entry after deportation.
“Boise police officers do not check immigration status,” said Williams, the Boise police spokeswoman. “That is a function of federal law enforcement officers.”
Q: Does Idaho have a federal immigration detention center?
A: No. Most people apprehended in Idaho who have entered the county illegally are held in local jails or temporarily at Boise’s federal immigration office and then transferred out of state for processing and possible deportation.
Boise-area deportation cases are heard by two judges in Portland, including one who is about to retire. The nation currently has a shortage of immigration judges to hear these cases, and that shortage will become more obvious with a flood of new cases, said Jordan Moody, a Boise immigration lawyer with Wilner & O’Reilly.
“Probably, eventually, we’ll have to change our reliance on the Portland, Oregon, immigration court and create our own,” he said.
Between fiscal years 2003 and 2015, Idaho law enforcement reported more than 11,000 detainers. About 10,000 were held in county jails, and about 10,000 were from Mexico.
Q: When local police book someone into the Ada or Canyon county jail, do they check if the suspect is authorized to be in the U.S.?
A: No. But federal immigration officers regularly check Ada’s and Canyon’s arrest reports and inmate rosters, and, if they find someone who may be here illegally, the federal agency asks the jail to detain that person for them.
“That person would stay in custody until there is some kind of resolution on the state charge, like bond is posted or the case is resolved,” said Orr, the Ada County sheriff’s spokesman. “At that point, we would contact ICE, which would have to make a decision on whether they wanted that person to remain in custody. Then ICE officials would have to come and remove that person from our facility in a reasonable amount time (usually 48 hours) and take them to an ICE detention facility.”
Q: What if local law enforcement agencies want to help locate and detain people in the U.S. illegally? Can they?
A: Yes. The new orders encourage federal immigration enforcement and border patrol agencies to use local law enforcement agencies through a federal program called 287(g). This program allows a qualified state or local law enforcement officer to be designated as an “immigration officer” for purposes of enforcing federal immigration law.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, 32 law enforcement agencies in 16 states participate in the 287(g) program. The Idaho State Police, the Ada and Canyon counties sheriff’s offices and the Boise Police Department are not among them.
Even if local agencies wanted to help federal enforcement agencies, their resources may already be spread too thin to take on federal duties.
“Without specific federal training, the members of Canyon County Sheriff’s Office are not granted additional enforcement powers,” Decker said. “Although training is currently being offered and encouraged, at this time, we do not have the staffing available to dedicate to this training or activities.”
Q: What will happen to all those immigrants working in agriculture?
A: As Idaho’s economy improved in recent years, and its unemployment rate fell to 3.7 percent, agriculture’s domestic worker pool dried up. The same thing happened in hospitality, construction and food manufacturing. As a result, employers have spoken out against mass-deportation of immigrant workers.
About 27 percent of the people working on Idaho’s farms, dairies and ranches came here illegally, according to Pew Research Center.
“The economic vitality of rural Idaho stands on the shoulders of foreign-born laborers,” Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, said this month.
The association estimates foreign-born workers make up more than 85 percent of the state’s 8,300 dairy employees.
The aggressive deportation policies are having a chilling effect on the workforce already, said Elizabeth Kohtz, a Magic Valley veterinarian who works with dairies and is president of the Twin Falls County Farm Bureau.
“I have anecdotally heard people putting out ads for workers, and normally this time of year, several people will apply within a day, and they’re not having anyone apply,” she said.
Q: Wouldn’t that mean more jobs for Americans?
A: Many farm and ranch owners have told the Statesman that they either cannot find or cannot keep American workers.
Kohtz said the dairies she works with pay milkers at least $13 an hour for eight-hour shifts and give them at least two days off a week. Despite the relatively good pay and hours, “we cannot find American-born workers to do them,” she said.
Some agricultural employers use guest-worker programs to bring foreign labor into the U.S. by the thousands on a temporary basis. The H-2A visa for agricultural work gives employers a guarantee that workers are here legally, as well as providing some protections for workers. But the visa program doesn’t work for everyone. application processing delays can make it unappealing, and H-2A workers eventually return to their home countries.
“Dairy and feedlot and other animal agriculture farmers need to have workers here 24/7, 365 days a year,” Kohtz said.
HERE WITHOUT LEGAL PERMISSION
- 11 million people are in the U.S. illegally — 3.5 percent of the population
- 45,000 people are in Idaho illegally — 2.7 percent of the population
- 5 percent of U.S. workers and 4.6 percent of Idaho workers are unauthorized immigrants
- 52 percent of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. are from Mexico
- 83 percent of unauthorized immigrants in Idaho are from Mexico
- 3 million people were deported under President Barack Obama
Sources: Pew Research Center, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement