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ICE's New Tactic To Get Local Law Enforcement Authorities To Cooperate


Starting this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has turned to a new tactic to get cooperation from local law enforcement agencies. They're focusing on agencies that either don't want to or can't work with them because of local sanctuary laws. The first place this new tactic has been successful is Oregon, and Conrad Wilson with Oregon Public Broadcasting has more.

CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement sent administrative subpoenas to the Washington County Sheriff's Office, a big county just outside Portland. The subpoenas, which aren't signed by judges, asked for identifying documents, last known addresses and other information the sheriff had on two Mexican nationals, one convicted of sex abuse years ago and another arrested recently for drunk driving. Bryan Wilcox is the deputy field director for ICE's Seattle office.

BRYAN WILCOX: It's a new use of subpoenas to use them with law enforcement agencies. We've historically not needed to use them.

WILSON: The Washington County sheriff said he'd comply, making his agency the first in the country to do so. He declined an interview. This year, ICE has sent similar subpoenas to law enforcement and other agencies in New York, California and Connecticut. Since Washington County said yes to these subpoenas, other jurisdictions have followed suit, allowing ICE to get information from agencies in sanctuary communities. Again, Wilcox.

WILCOX: They're more necessary in sanctuary jurisdictions than they are in other places where we have better cooperation.

WILSON: Oregon is a sanctuary state. The law dates back more than 30 years and has served as a model for similar laws elsewhere. In 2014, the relationship between ICE and many local law enforcement agencies across the country began to change after a federal court ruling in Oregon. It found that ICE's use of something called detainers were unconstitutional because they're not signed by a judge. ICE sends detainers to local jails to hold people it wants to deport. It was a critical tool for ICE, but after the federal court ruling, many jails stopped honoring them. So now ICE is issuing these subpoenas.

RICARDO VALERIO: It's very concerning.

WILSON: Ricardo Valerio is the advocacy director for the Latino Network. He points out the subpoenas are not signed by a judge.

VALERIO: It's one of those aspects where you have a tactic similar to what we saw with detainers, having an administrative nonjudicial process that is very misconstrued to install confusion both on the government level and fear on the community.

JULIET STUMPF: I think it is a way in which ICE and the Trump administration is trying to go after sanctuary cities.

WILSON: Juliet Stumpf is an immigration law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland. Stumpf researches sanctuary laws across the country and believes they work. She says the thing that could trip ICE up is the 10th Amendment. It says the federal government can't commandeer local law enforcement.

STUMPF: If ICE is not permitted by the Constitution to tell state or local law enforcement officers to do their bidding, then the subpoena effectively becomes a request for the information.

WILSON: Stumpf says if local sanctuary laws prohibit sharing, then sheriffs and police actually can't honor ICE's subpoenas. In fact, in Colorado, the city of Denver is fighting a subpoena with a case that's now before a federal judge and could set a precedent.

Billy Williams, the U.S. Attorney for Oregon, says he understands local law enforcement feel caught between sanctuary laws and federal law, but he argues the subpoenas give localities a clear legal cover for responding to ICE's desire for information.

BILLY WILLIAMS: It gives them something else to look at in terms of which law are they going to follow.

WILSON: Williams says even though the administrative subpoenas are not signed by a judge, local law enforcement must follow federal law.

WILLIAMS: And if we need to go to court, we'll do that.

WILSON: And the Department of Justice may get that chance, as ICE is expected to issue more of these administrative subpoenas to law enforcement agencies across the country. For NPR News, I'm Conrad Wilson in Portland.

(SOUNDBITE OF EMANCIPATOR'S "VINES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Conrad Wilson

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