How We Can Stop the Rise in ICE Raids

Eliminating a popular agreement can prevent the removal of thousands of immigrants

Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty

WeWe are fresh off (another) nationwide raid warning from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that, so far, has resulted in minimal ICE encounters but maximum fear in Black and Brown immigrant communities. This was the goal, of course: to wreak havoc by forcing families into hiding and preventing immigrants from going to work.

In these frightening times, finding concrete ways to fight ICE can be challenging. One potent way to keep immigrants safe is to share information about their legal rights and hotline numbers of immigrant advocacy groups. But communities can go a step further. They can pressure their state and local law enforcement agencies to sever their ties with ICE by rescinding or refusing to renew their 287(g) agreements.

IICE, a federal agency created under the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of 9/11, operates some 1,500 detention centers in every single state in the U.S. But for 79 jurisdictions across 21 states, the agency’s reach extends far beyond the barbed wire and high concrete walls of its detention facilities — to jails operated by county sheriff departments and state correctional departments.

Section 287(g) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (which amended the Immigration and Naturalization Act) grants law enforcement agencies the power to act as ICE agents by temporarily detaining immigrants who have broken the law. This includes immigrants who have already served out their sentences in full and those whose charges have been dropped, as well as immigrants who have committed minor traffic violations like a broken taillight. The supposed purpose of the program is to make communities safer.

These two-day “detainers” buy ICE crucial time to pick up immigrants directly from prisons and transport them to ICE detention centers, a process known as the prison-to-deportation pipeline.

Here’s how it works: With 287(g) federal power, local law enforcement officers can screen those suspected of unlawful activity for their residency status, share this information with ICE, and hold them for 48 hours. These two-day “detainers” buy ICE crucial time to pick up immigrants directly from prisons and transport them to ICE detention centers, a process known as the prison-to-deportation pipeline.

It’s a win-win for ICE. Not only do participating law enforcement agencies hand-deliver immigrants to them, states and counties foot almost the entire bill for the privilege of doing so, to the tune of millions of dollars. Gwinnett County, Georgia, where one-third of residents are foreign-born, has shelled out some $15 million since the program’s inception in 2009.

Under President Trump, whose executive order his first week in office directed a major expansion of the 287(g) program, the number of agreements has doubled across the country. According to the Department of Homeland Security, partnerships between law enforcement agencies and ICE led to the removal of 7,000 immigrants during the 2018 fiscal year.

This, despite the fact that there is no evidence that 287(g) agreements make communities safer. In fact, studies have shown the opposite to be true. Immigrants living in 287(g) jurisdictions are far less likely to report crimes, even when they are the victims, for fear that any encounter with law enforcement could lead to their detention and removal. Law enforcement officers who allocate their time to their 287(g) duties neglect fighting actual crimes. The agreements have also led to illegal racial profiling and abuse. And immigrants residing in 287(g) jurisdictions face more discrimination than immigrants without these agreements.

TThe movement to pressure local law enforcement to rescind or refuse to renew their agreements with ICE is growing. Over the past few months alone, residents and immigrant advocacy groups in Gwinnett County, Georgia; Tarrant County, Texas; Tulsa County, Oklahoma; Knox County, Tennessee, and elsewhere, have raised awareness in their communities about the harm of the program, and have formed coalitions to demand that their counties take steps to end it.

What’s more, voters have made their opinions known at the polls by voting out sheriffs who support the 287(g) program. (In most counties, sheriffs are elected officials.) Last year in North Carolina, after a comprehensive door-to-door campaign to educate the community, voters elected two candidates to sheriff in Mecklenburg and Wake counties, who ran on the platform that they would end their counties’ partnerships with ICE. And soon after they won, they both did.

At the end of the day, 287(g) agreements further the same mission as widespread ICE raid warnings: to terrorize and dehumanize immigrants by treating them as either criminals to incarcerate or cattle to round up. Terminating counties’ cooperation with ICE will help weaken the menacing and relentless war on one of the most vulnerable populations under Trump. And this strategy is one that residents don’t have to wage on the steps of the capitol or on the grounds of detention centers. They can pressure their state and local law enforcement agencies to end their role as a terrorist arm of ICE, one jurisdiction at a time.

Journalist, critic & columnist at ZORA. Essay collection SOUTHBOUND (UGA Press) & debut novel THE PARTED EARTH (Hub City Press), spring ’21.

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