County Sheriff Races in 2018 Might be The Key to Resisting Trump’s Immigration Plans

The biggest setback the Trump administration has suffered so far in the 2018 primaries might have come in a sheriff’s race in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina — where the victorious challenger has promised to reduce his office’s cooperation with federal agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Alternatively, it might have been in a sheriff’s race in the state’s Durham County, where another incumbent got swept out by a challenger who promised to end local cooperation with ICE requests entirely.

Progressive victories in local criminal justice races — including prosecutors as well as sheriffs — have been a trend in the early stages of the 2018 cycle. Unlike most criminal justice policy, though, immigration policy is set by the federal government; the only choices local officials can make are how easy to make the jobs of ICE agents in identifying and apprehending deportable immigrants.

But new data suggests that under President Trump, the decisions that local officials make about cooperating with ICE — or refusing to cooperate — actually matter a lot for ICE’s ability to ramp up arrests and deportations. The trend of blue “sanctuary” cities and states where many unauthorized immigrants live reducing cooperation with ICE (even while it expands elsewhere) could make it extremely hard for the Trump administration even to return immigration enforcement to the levels of President Obama’s first term. And the new sheriffs in town in North Carolina’s Mecklenburg and Durham counties are poised, when they get sworn in after the November elections, to restrict ICE’s access further still.

Sheriffs who ran on reducing ICE cooperation won in North Carolina

Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, has long been at the forefront of local cooperation with ICE. Its first agreement with the federal government to deputize local officials to help enforce immigration law (known as a 287(g) agreement) was signed in February 2006; the sheriff at the time acknowledged that its goal was to apprehend and send to ICE as many unauthorized immigrants as possible. It became a model for 287(g) agreements in the Southeast.

By Dara Lind for VOX
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