The Pulse

Is your community paying to enforce Trump’s immigration agenda? More communities saying “no”

By: - May 9, 2018 4:00 pm

While media attention often focuses on President Trump’s stream of insulting and divisive comments about immigration, less attention has been devoted to the administration’s ongoing effort to enlist local communities to carry out his agenda. The Trump administration wants to expand a program called “287g,” which effectively deputizes local law enforcement agents to act as agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

These agreements can tear communities apart, and have potentially serious fiscal, economic, and legal risks. That is why many communities are looking to end existing 287g agreements or thinking twice before signing up to be the agents of Trump’s immigration agenda. For example, the primary elections on May 8th saw the incumbent sheriff in Mecklenburg, who reauthorized that county’s 287g program, go down to defeat.

The Trump administration did not invent the 287g program, but it clearly sees it as a tool for implementing its agenda. The administration has signed up over 45 new localities to enforce its immigration priorities since January 2017 and currently has agreements in place with six sheriff’s offices in North Carolina (Wake, Mecklenburg, Gaston, Cabarrus, Nash, and Henderson). Alamance County had its 287g agreement terminated due to allegations of discriminatory practices, but has subsequently applied to have it reinstated.

Beyond creating fear and fostering distrust, 287g agreements have far-reaching fiscal, economic, and legal implications for local communities.

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Large cost to local taxpayers

When local sheriffs’ offices sign 287g agreements, they are pledging to pay for a big part of the cost of doing immigration enforcement work. This even includes paying for travel and lodging for employees to receive the training required to participate in the program.

This is from the Wake County’s sheriff’s office 287g agreement: “The WSCO is responsible for the salaries and benefits, including overtime, of its personnel being trained or performing duties under this MOA… The WCSO will cover the costs of all WSCO personnel’s travel, housing, and per diem affiliated with the training required for participation in this MOA.”

The local resources that 287g agreements consume could be utilized for other vital public safety needs. When the sheriff in Harris County, Texas pulled out of its 287g agreement, the sheriff’s office was able to reassign ten deputies, and their $675,000 in salary costs to other local priorities.

Targeting immigrant communities is bad for business

Would you want to do business in a community that actively works to target your friends, family, and community? As we’ve reported before, immigrant entrepreneurs are increasingly vital to North Carolina’s business community, particularly as Main Street businesses proprietors. Cities that engage in 287g agreements are likely to lose out as immigrant business owners look elsewhere to set up shop.

A recent analysis showed that nearly one-million immigrant business owners and 260,000 Main Street immigrant entrepreneurs work in communities with 287g agreements nationwide. We don’t have a reliable figure for the number of immigrant entrepreneurs in North Carolina who live in communities with 287g agreements, but the figures that do exist are striking. Over three-thousand immigrant business owners work in Wake County, and immigrants operate nearly one out of every five Main Street businesses. The potential harm in Mecklenburg County is even larger, where immigrant entrepreneurs are responsible for almost 30 percent of all Main Street businesses and over 3,500 immigrant entrepreneurs operate in the county.

Program can expose communities to legal liabilities

When the Trump administration took office, the 287g program already had a troubled past. Several local sheriff’s offices were removed from the program due to patterns of discriminatory policing practices aimed at immigrant communities. The most famous case is likely the Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff’s department under Joe Arpaio, who has spent enormous sums unsuccessfully defending discriminatory policing practices, which also resulted in the loss of its 287g agreement. While the Arizona case has garnered more media attention, Alamance County North Carolina also lost its 287g agreement due to discriminatory practices.

There may be legal liabilities for communities with 287g agreements, even if they have not engaged in systematically discriminatory practices. Some legal scholars worry that communities with 287g agreements may place themselves at legal risk due because of complex limitations on local authority with regard to immigration enforcement. Litigating activities required by 287g agreements can be enormously expensive for local governments, as a number of communities nationwide and in North Carolina have already discovered.

Conclusion – push back on 287g agreements

While the potential pitfalls of 287g agreements extend even further, the economic, fiscal, and legal costs alone are serious concerns for any community. 287g agreements are completely voluntary, so deciding against 287g can provide an opportunity for localities to take a stand against the Trump Administration’s attacks on immigrants and the communities of which they are a part.

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Patrick McHugh

Patrick McHugh is the research manager at the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center. Learn more at