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Police Agreements To Work With Federal Agents Highlight Immigration Debate

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

So law enforcement officers in Texas face a big question. It's how involved they really want to be with federal immigration enforcement. Texas is one of many states where some local police forces have signed agreements to work with ICE, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Those agreements, though, are just the start of the political debate, as we hear from Stella Chavez of member station KERA.

STELLA CHAVEZ, BYLINE: Texas sheriffs surrounded acting ICE director Tom Homan on Monday at an event to mark their new partnership with federal immigration officials. Homan lauded the sheriffs, calling them American patriots. Officers of 60 law enforcement agencies across the country have signed up for the program known as 287(g). They receive specialized training in immigration law and learn to use an ICE database. They essentially become immigration officers. Homan says it's safer this way for ICE agents.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

THOMAS HOMAN: There's no doubt that arresting removable aliens in a jail is safer for the officers, is safer for the community and even safer for the alien himself.

CHAVEZ: Texas is at the forefront of the immigration debate. A new Texas law that cracks down on so-called sanctuary cities will go into effect in September. It penalizes cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration agents. In June, the Texas attorney general asked the Trump administration to end the program known as DACA, which helps young people who came here illegally as children.

Some Texas officials have balked at partnering with immigration enforcement under 287(g). Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback is one of the officials who supports the measure.

A J LOUDERBACK: This is a pathway to provide the type of criminal control coming out of our jails that we've been looking for.

CHAVEZ: That's not what immigrant advocates believe. They say immigrants without a criminal history are being arrested after routine traffic stops. Jennifer de Haro is a senior staff attorney for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services.

JENNIFER DE HARO: We are hearing a lot of fear from immigrants, even immigrants who have legal status.

CHAVEZ: De Haro says she believes this agreement will ramp up racial profiling by officers and fear among immigrants.

DE HARO: I've had one client ask if she should refrain from going shopping at the mall, if she should be staying home.

CHAVEZ: The Obama administration pulled back on these partnerships between ICE and local law enforcement after Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio was accused of racial profiling while participating in the program. On Monday, he was found guilty of criminal contempt. For NPR News, I'm Stella Chavez in Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "KONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.