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New ICE program lets local authorities "disregard" sanctuary policies, advocates say

Washington — Immigration advocates are denouncing a new Trump administration program they believe will allow local law enforcement offices to "disregard" laws passed in so-called "sanctuary" cities and states that limit local cooperation with federal immigration authorities.   

Unveiled Monday, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiative is designed to allow participating local law enforcement officers to make immigration arrests in jails and correctional facilities on behalf of the agency, which has been strongly criticized by pro-immigrant groups and Democrats for its ramped up enforcement during President Trump's tenure. 

"It's another scheme by ICE to do what we've seen them try to do all over the country for the last several years, which is enlist local police as instruments of the Trump administration's anti-immigrant agenda," Naureen Shah, a senior policy and advocacy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told CBS News Tuesday. 

Shah said it was "deeply offensive" that the program is explicitly designed for "sanctuary" jurisdictions. 

"They specifically want to go after jurisdictions where local communities have passed laws saying they don't want their police to cooperate with ICE — and they now want those police to disregard the will of local communities," she said.   

The program, Shah added, can also deepen rifts between local immigrant communities and participating law enforcement — which she said can become indistinguishable from ICE in the eyes of many immigrants. 

"If you witness a crime, but you are either undocumented or one of your family members is, are you going to call police officers knowing that they are part of ICE, basically?" she said. "This is part of the Trump administration's very large and relentless plan to rid this country of immigrants." 

Under the initiative, dubbed the Warrant Service Officer (WSO) program, local law enforcement — like county sheriffs and correctional departments — can go to a local ICE field office and express interest in participating. This would trigger "discussions" in which ICE would determine if the program is "suitable" for said jurisdiction, an ICE official told CBS News Tuesday. 

"Depending on the policies that have been passed that limit cooperation with ICE, this program may not be suitable for every jurisdiction," the official added when asked how participating local offices would avoid violating municipal and state "sanctuary" laws like the ones in place in New York City and California.

If and when the local law enforcement office signs an memorandum of agreement with ICE, it would then nominate officers to participate in the WSO initiative. Upon passing a background check and attending a one-day training, these local officers would be certified to make immigration arrests on behalf of ICE.

These arrests, the ICE official said, would occur in the confines of a jail or correctional facility when an immigrant with a criminal conviction or pending criminal charges is formally released from custody. The certified local law enforcement officer trained under the program would re-arrest the immigrant on behalf of ICE for immigration violations. The immigrant can be detained for up to 48 hours until a formal transfer to immigration authorities occurs, the official added. 

Pressed about the seemingly expedited one-day training, the ICE official said the "authorities" given to local officers under the program are "very limited," noting officers will not ask questions about citizenship. Asked about possible lawsuits against jurisdictions who participate in the initiative, the officials replied, "That's something that's always floating out there." 

Shah, the ACLU lawyer, said the one-day training is "hugely concerning."

"Our concerns about racial profiling and providing excuses for harassment of immigrant communities are heightened when officers get even less training," she said. 

Late last year, the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General released a report criticizing ICE's oversight and management of the training for its larger 287g program, which deputizes certain state and local law enforcement offices to enforce federal immigration laws. The training for that initiative last four weeks. 

The ICE official said one jurisdiction, Florida's Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, has signed up for the new program, but that the agency is expecting other law enforcement offices to formally join the initiative "shortly." 

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