Within Franklin County, Ohio, the most effective method for finding and removing criminal migrants is regulating the movement of migrants across space. Civil and criminal charges that often lead to a migrant’s arrest are subjective. The high removal rates of migrants without criminal records and migrants facing low-level misdemeanor and civil charges in Franklin County make sense within an enforcement framework that willfully obfuscates the line between criminal and civil codes, and criminalizes migrant interactions with law enforcement for the sake of creating removable criminal aliens.
Locally active immigration enforcement officers and the subjectivity of local law enforcement officers exacerbate the creation and subsequent targeting of criminal migrants for removal in the Franklin County context. Law enforcement communities are uncertain about their enrollment in immigration enforcement programs. Franklin County residents concerned by the Sheriff’s Office’s role in the Secure Communities program have approached Sheriff Zach Scott on multiple occasions. In an informal meeting with Central Ohioans, Sheriff Scott was initially unfamiliar with the program and stated that the Sheriff’s Office did not honor ICE detainer requests in spite of having submitted over 85,000 fingerprints to the ICE Law Enforcement Support Center since 2010. Even though law enforcement actively participate in the creation of removable criminal migrants through the process of enforcement, the formalization of the biometric data submission process obscures their direct role in enforcement.
The Secure Communities initiative operates to query individuals arrested on criminal grounds as to their immigration status, a dramatic shift from prohibiting non-federal authorities from enforcing civil aspects of the Immigration and Nationality Act. According to the Secure Communities Standard Operating Procedures for participating law enforcement agencies, the program exists to pinpoint migrants currently in the custody of law enforcement either charged with or convicted of “serious criminal offenses” and to establish enforcement strategies primarily targeting migrants “convicted of serious criminal offenses” for removal.
Secure Communities promises to establish safety and maintain the integrity of communities that face the threat of insecurity caused by the criminal presence of immigrants. ICE frames the program as a “simple and common sense” tool for keeping the nation safe from any threats to its security without “imposing” enforcement decision-making responsibilities on enrolled law enforcement agencies. This bolsters the discourse that enrollment is logical, and participation is an efficient way to fix the imagined correlation between immigration and crime on a local scale with federal support.
Signing on to participate in Secure Communities is a rational way for jurisdictions across the US, whether near a border or in the nation’s interior, to address undocumented and undesirable immigration to their communities. In protecting their communities through enrollment in Secure Communities, activated jurisdictions take on the responsibility to keep their communities and the nation safe from criminal immigrants. Participating jurisdictions enter into the memorandum of agreement without expecting additional responsibilities or costs, although programs divert existing local law enforcement resources to immigration enforcement. Once adopted by a jurisdiction, there is no guarantee that the program’s discursively-established internal parameters will be followed. Moreover, contradictions between stated enforcement strategies and enforcement practices result in uneven enforcement of the program’s goals to identify and remove convicted level 1 criminals.
Whether directly enrolled in Secure Communities or not, local law enforcement partners face local-scale consequences. In partnering with ICE to remove migrants, local officials reinforce migrants’ overall distrust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system threatens the security of communities that immigration enforcement memorandum of agreement claim to protect. If migrants fear law enforcement will discover their or relatives’ unauthorized status, it is unlikely they will report crime or cooperate with a law enforcement investigation.
Recently, internal ICE emails revealed that the agency set annual removal quotas, which were the sole performance metric for field offices. Franklin County criminal defense attorneys have noticed a marked increase in removals through docket trolling and ICE agents’ presence in the county municipal court. ICE also suggested methods for reaching these quotas, including participation in local law enforcement-run traffic checkpoints, trolling state DMV records, and assigning ICE officers to jails to find removable noncitizens.
Within Franklin County, migrants who encounter law enforcement officials may soon become removable criminal aliens. Jurisdictions in which Secure Communities is activated often face low incidence of crimes reported for fear of victims being removed after revealing their unauthorized status, or losing breadwinning family members who may be perpetrators of crimes against them. The impending threat of deportation causes fear, insecurity, and misinformation to sediment in migrant communities. Multiscalar policies and practices in Franklin County regulate migrant movement to the point of incapacitation, facilitating the identification and subsequent removal of criminal migrants from the community. Law enforcement agencies’ role in incapacitating entire migrant communities is justified by the perceived presence of criminal unauthorized migrants. One must not ignore that immigrants sometimes commit crime, but it is vital to recognize that immigration enforcement practices turn large swaths of migrant communities into removable criminal aliens.
Lauren Hines is a newly-minted MA in Geography from the Ohio State University, as well as founder and coordinator of Central Ohio Immigrant Justice, a community organization dedicated to identifying and filling gaps in resources in Columbus’ migrant and solidarity communities.
Part I in this series is available here