The leaders of three Tri-City law enforcement agencies question President Trump’s executive order to have local police take on the duties of enforcing federal immigration law.
Benton County Sheriff Steve Keane, Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner and Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg say there is not enough information to determine what the change means.
They are also concerned about the strain it could put on their departments, and whether they will be required to give up enforcing state and local laws to carry out immigration law enforcement.
“I am going to wait and see what this looks like. I don’t like our local guys doing federal law enforcement,” Keane said. “Most of us are understaffed, and our primary responsibilities are to protect our local communities.”
I am nervous and resistant any time the federal government tries to impose what is best for our community, when we know what is best.
Richland Police Chief Chris Skinner
The executive order, signed on Jan. 25 and dubbed “Secure Communities” by the president, gives a basic outline to how the U.S. will increase enforcement of immigration laws. The new administration plans to hire 10,000 Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and establish partnerships with states and local agencies.
To have local police and deputies carry out federal immigration laws requires an agreement between Homeland Security and the police department or sheriff’s office.
A similar program in 2009 had more than 60 police agencies working with federal authorities, but that number is now less than half after a series of complaints that the program was used to racially profile Hispanics, according to The Associated Press. It was phased out under President Obama.
Law enforcement agencies are still allowed to check the citizenship status of people booked into jail. If a person is in the country illegally, they notify ICE.
Kennewick’s Hohenberg remembers the previous version of the program.
“I can’t remember any local jurisdictions sending anyone to participate,” Hohenberg said.
Richland’s Skinner opposes the idea.
“I am nervous and resistant any time the federal government tries to impose what is best for our community, when we know what is best,” Skinner said. “I am not going to task my people with immigration enforcement, which I believe is the task of federal government and not the job of local law enforcement.”
Skinner is worried about the cost of policing Richland if his officers are required to conduct immigration law enforcement, he said. If an officer spends a few hours working on an immigration case, it is a few hours less of law enforcement for the city.
“We have very little un-dedicated time to pursue this endeavor … (it) is a horrible use of our resources,” Skinner said. “I think local law enforcement has a specific mission and when we are doing that mission, Richland is a safer place to live.”
Hohenberg said the order is relatively new, and he has not been contacted by Homeland Security about what it would require, but he is not interested in taking on federal law enforcement duties.
“We have enough local issues without taking on their workload for them,” Hohenberg said. “If there is someone here illegally and doing criminal activity, they will get our engagement.”
Some police officers are deputized as U.S. Marshals Service deputies, a similar federal partnership between local police and a federal agency.
Skinner accepts officers working with the marshals service because it is related to capturing people wanted for criminal matters, like arrest warrants, he said.
“We are happy to be a complementary resource when doing something like that,” Skinner said.
We have enough local issues without taking on their workload for them. If there is someone here illegally and doing criminal activity, they will get our engagement.
Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg
Keane said without a policy to keep deported individuals from returning, pushing local law enforcement into catching illegal immigrants is a “wasted effort.”
“I think the policy needs to be changed and it won’t be solved overnight,” Keane said. “To put all of your resources into tracking these people down and deporting them, without a policy about them coming back, is like spinning your wheels. What we have now is not working.”
The executive order gave Homeland Security a year to create the fines and penalties associated with illegal residency.
“We want to make sure we prioritize what we do to better to serve our communities. Immigration is a federal issue. It is their policy,” Keane said. “We have a huge job to do protecting the community we swore to protect and serve.”
Pasco Police Chief Bob Metzger and Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond were not available for interviews.
What the executive order says
Participating police agencies would agree to help catch and deport people who are not documented to reside in the U.S. legally if they ...
▪ have been convicted of a crime.
▪ are charged with a criminal offense that has not been resolved.
▪ committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.
▪ engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in official matters or applications to a government agency.
▪ abused any program related to receipt of public benefits.
▪ failed to comply with their legal obligation to leave the U.S.
▪ pose a risk to public safety or national security, in the belief of an immigration officer.
Read the full text at bit.ly/ice-executive-order