Millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. face deportation under President Donald Trump's immigration enforcement orders. To accomplish this task, Trump is reviving federal enforcement policies that authorize and deputizes state and local law officials to catch, detain and remove non-citizens back to their country of origin.
An estimated 70,000 undocumented immigrants live in Arkansas, according to the Pew Research Center which monitors immigration trends. Many working families, raising American-born children, fret their lives will be ripped apart by Trump’s mass deportation order. A coalition of Arkansas human rights activists are stepping forward hoping to intervene.
President Barack Obama ended Secure Communities in 2014 after widespread reports of racial profiling and immigrant families being torn apart. Obama ordered immigration law enforcement to focus only on criminal aliens. During Obama’s final year in office, 240,255 removals occurred nationwide, with 92 percent of individuals convicted of a criminal offense.
Trump plans to build out Secure Communities as well as section 287(g), enacted in 1996, under the federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.
The 287(g) program funds collaboration between federal and local authorities, in effect deputizing local law enforcement to act as immigration enforcers. Between 2006 and 2013, more than 175,ooo immigrants were removed under the program. In Arkansas, four local police and sheriff departments in Rogers, Fayetteville, Bentonville and Springdale signed joint 287(g) memoranda of agreement, allowing specially trained officers to investigate, arrest and detain citizens suspected to be without citizenship papers.
Coger says he's worried that Trump's executive actions ramping up immigration enforcement are forcing Arkansas's established immigrant community back into the shadows.
“Prior to 287(g), entire families would shop in the local marketplace,” Coger says. “After, families would send only one member, to protect everyone from being arrested.”
Of nearly 2,000 287(g) agreements nationwide, many have lapsed. Seventeen states, including Arkansas, however, continued to renew such agreements across 42 county jurisdictions. In December, 2012, Rogers Police and Springdale Police Departments’ agreements expired. Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder has one assigned 287(g) deputy and insists he will only detain criminally charged individuals.
“When I say this,” Helder says, “not everyone is going to be a drug dealer or rapist or a bank robber. There will be people that come through our doors that may have a warrant for a misdemeanor offense — I don’t know.”
No undocumented families settled in Arkansas were willing to come forward to discuss their concerns. Stephen Coger says he’s not surprised. Citing several cases of detainee neglect, verging on abuse in northwest Arkansas, he says unauthorized immigrants, including law-abiding individuals, don't want to risk being identified.
Soon after taking office, President Trump ordered expansion of a domestic “deportation force,” hiring 10,000 new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and expedited removals to quickly deport undocumented immigrants caught at the U.S. border — turning back any number of individuals seeking political asylum. Federal immigration sweeps are also on the rise, taking place across the country, including the surrounding states of Oklahoma, Texas Missouri, and Tennessee — but not yet in Arkansas.
This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media, a statewide journalism collaboration among public media organizations. Arkansas Public Media reporting is funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK and from members of the public. You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media’s reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.