Despite Trump’s threats, enforcing immigration laws ‘not part of our mandate’ local officials say

“My focus is on proactively engaging our Hispanic community in Tulsa so they feel safe, feel welcome," Mayor G.T. Bynum said.

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Tulsa Police Department Chief Chuck Jordan, left, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, top right, and Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado, bottom right. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Mayor G.T. Bynum said this is not the time to be discussing whether he would support the use of local law enforcement agencies to assist federal immigration agents should incoming president Donald Trump move forward with his call for mass deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Trump has threatened to cut off federal aid to municipalities that fail to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement efforts. In fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30, the city of Tulsa expended $18.7 million in federal funds.

“When issues arise, we will respond to them as we deem appropriate for Tulsa to do so,” Bynum said earlier this month.“In the meantime, my focus is on proactively engaging our Hispanic community in Tulsa so they feel safe, feel welcome, and feel their children have the same opportunities as my own.

“This week alone, I’ve conducted interviews with three Spanish-language radio programs and one newspaper — all with the goal of spreading that message.”

On the campaign trail, candidate Trump lathered up crowds with promises to build a wall on the southern border of the United States and to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.

“We’re rounding ’em up in a very humane way, in a very nice way. And they’re going to be happy because they want to be legalized,” Trump told CBS’s 60 Minutes in September 2015. “And, by the way, I know it doesn’t sound nice. But not everything is nice.”

That was nearly a year and a half ago. Trump’s statements on immigration have become somewhat more nuanced since then.

Although he continues to insist he will build a wall along the country’s southern border, he has backed away from the idea of deporting all of the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Thursday signaled that Republicans in Congress have no interest in such a plan.

“What we have to do is figure out how to have a humane solution to this very legitimate, sincere problem, and respect the rule of law,” Ryan said.

Trump now says his first priority will be to remove illegal immigrants who are gang members, engage in criminal activity, pose a security threat or have overstayed their visas.

Those priorities actually match current policies under President Barack Obama, who deported 2.4 million undocumented immigrants during his presidency, including many who committed criminal offenses.

Donald Trump appears at a rally in Tulsa in January. Dylan Goforth/THE FRONTIER
Donald Trump appears at a rally in Tulsa last January. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Mayors Express Opposition

Still, with less than a week before Trump becomes the nation’s 45th president, no one knows exactly what his immigration policies will look like. But the mayors of some of the country’s largest cities are girding for the worst.

According to the New York Times, heavily Democratic cities like Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, New York City, Oakland and others have indicated they will not cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

The paper also cites an estimate from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco that more than 500 counties and cities have policies limiting their cooperation with immigration officials.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, president of the U.S. Council of Mayors, said immigration policy will be on the agenda this week when mayors meet in Washington.

Cornett said he does not expect the mayors to come out “with any sort of provocative stance” on the issue. And he does not believe the federal government is going to start relying on local police officers to enforce immigration laws.

“I don’t see that happening, “ Cornett said. “You know, our police officers are stretched thin right now and we are being asked to do more community policing and to have more de-escalation policies in place, and all of that takes more manpower. We are running short-handed already.”

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett

The Council of Mayors’ priorities heading into its meeting in Washington are securing more federal support for infrastructure and public safety and keeping the tax-free status on municipal bonds, Cornett said.

During his campaign for mayor last year, Bynum, a Republican, refused to say whether he would support Trump for president. He’s taking the same nonpartisan approach when it comes to immigration.

“Just as I thought it a poor use of leadership for Republican elected officials to posture against every hypothetical thing President Obama could do, so I think it is a poor use of leadership for Democrat elected officials to posture against every hypothetical thing President Trump could do,” Bynum said.

Sheriff, police chief Respond

The area’s Hispanic population continues to grow. As of April 2010, Hispanics comprised 14.1 percent of Tulsa’s population, up from 7.2 percent a decade earlier, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Countywide, Hispanics make up 12.1 percent of the population, according to 2015 Census figures. That’s up from 6 percent in 2010.

A 2016 study by the Community Service Council, meanwhile, found that 19.5 percent of the county’s population under 5 years old is Hispanic.

“Tulsa’s young child population would be shrinking if not for Hispanic children,” the report states.

Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan said he would not speculate on what the federal government might or might not do and vowed that his department would continue to serve the entire community, regardless of an individual’s race, color or religious affiliation.

“I don’t want anyone to be a crime victim in this city and be afraid to call the police,” Jordan said.

The Police Department is not in the business of enforcing federal immigration laws, the chief said.

“That is not part of our mandate.”

Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado says he is not interested in using his office's resources to be part of the kind of mass deportation effort President-elect Donald Trump has suggested. The sheriff said his office would be interested in working to apprehend undocumented persons committing serious crimes, but that his office doesn't have the resources to do so. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier
Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado says he is not interested in using his office’s resources to be part of the kind of mass deportation effort President-elect Donald Trump has suggested. The sheriff said his office would be interested in working to apprehend undocumented persons committing serious crimes, but that his office doesn’t have the resources to do so. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

It is part of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office’s mandate, though officials there are quick to point out that their work is done inside the confines of the jail. Like the Police Department, the Sheriff’s Office is not authorized to stop, question or apprehend individuals based solely on the suspicion that the person is undocumented.

However, as part of the routine booking process at the Tulsa Jail, each person is asked where he or she was born. It is here, under TCSO’s agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, that select Sheriff’s Office employees work under ICE supervision to identify, detain and prepare for deportation individuals suspected of violating immigration laws.

Since the Sheriff’s Office first became part of the program, known as 287 (g), in 2007,
10,586 individuals brought into the Tulsa Jail — all on alleged crimes unrelated to the individual’s immigration status — have self-identified themselves as foreign-born nationals. Of those, 5,694 — or 54 percent – were deported, according to figures provided by ICE.

Carl Rusnok, Central Region spokesman for ICE, said a common misunderstanding of the 287 (g) program is that partner agencies “are in neighborhoods actively looking for illegal aliens.”

That is not true, Rusnok said.

They “work only within the jail, and they only operate … after foreign-born nationals have been booked into the jail on state and local criminal charges totally unrelated to their immigration status.”

That was not always the case. Rusnok and Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado acknowledge that sheriff’s deputies used to work with ICE task forces to apprehend illegal immigrants suspected of criminal activity, but that ended about three years ago.

Regalado said he believes it is highly unlikely that Trump would push to deport every person in the country illegally.

“I don’t think anyone has that capacity or the resources,” he said.

The sheriff added that he’s not interested in using TCSO resources to round up people who are in the country illegally unless those people are engaged in serious criminal activities. If Trump chose to ratchet up efforts to apprehend and deport illegal immigrants committing serious crimes, the Sheriff’s Office would be interested in being part of that effort, Regalado said.

“Pertaining to the criminal element, we would certainly be interested,” Regalado said. “But again, I have to go back to being able to have the resources to be able to dedicate to such a task force, and right now, we don’t have that capability.”

The same goes for holding more ICE inmates in the jail. Regalado said he would be open to the idea, but simply doesn’t have enough beds in the jail.

“I fully expect we are going to see our (non-ICE) jail population steadily rise,” Regalado said.

Regalado said it is important for the public to understand that ICE’s 287 (g) program with the Sheriff’s Office focuses on undocumented immigrants who have committed a serious crime or are suspected of committing a serious crime.

“We are not talking about people who have traffic violation warrants, and that’s it,” Regalado said. “Those people aren’t being put in the 287 (g) program. They are people that are a threat to national security, commit violent crimes or have been deported numerous times, and we simply house them.”

Regalado dismissed the notion that money might be a motivation for accepting more ICE inmates. The per diem rate ICE pays the Sheriff’s Office to hold its inmates in the Tulsa Jail has gradually increased since TCSO became part of the 287 (g) program. The current rate is $69 per day per prisoner.

“I can tell you it certainly isn’t to line our pockets, because if it is, we’re not doing something right,” Regalado said. “It is not making us rich, and the jail is still underfunded.”

Since 2007, ICE has paid the Sheriff’s Office $23.8 million to TCSO to house inmates in the jail, according to the county Fiscal Office. During the same period, ICE has paid the Sheriff’s Office $1.6 million for transporting ICE inmates. That’s an average annual payment to TCSO of about $2.5 million.

Hispanic community anxious

Jordan Mazariegos, 23, worries about his legal status — but not because he believes Trump will begin rounding up every undocumented person in the country. But because of the rhetoric Trump’s spouted and inspired around the subject.

“What I am most scared of is that kind of rhetoric does and will invite people who really genuinely believe that can happen to act upon (it) themselves,” Mazariegos said. “For example, I think there are some really diehard Trump supporters out there who take this rhetoric and take it upon themselves to target certain communities, (or) people in power, like law enforcement, to now feel empowered to act as an immigration official.

“For example, I think there are some really diehard Trump supporters out there who take this rhetoric and take it upon themselves to target certain communities, (or) people in power, like law enforcement, to now feel empowered to act as an immigration official.

“I am more worried about what is happening in my community … about the officers and the people close to me and my family. I feel more for our safety (because of) being a target of a hate crime, or being insulted or being just targeted or being pulled over for just the way we look.”

Mazariegos’ parents brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was just a toddler, and in 2012 he was granted temporary legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created by executive by President Obama.

DACA is not a guaranteed path to citizenship — recipients must re-apply every two years — but it does defer deportation proceedings for qualified undocumented young people and allows them to work legally.

President-elect Trump, once in office, could eliminate the program with a swipe of his pen. For people like Mazariegos, president of Dream Act Oklahoma and a senior at Oklahoma State University, where he is majoring in accounting and finance, that would be devastating.

“I do fear that DACA would be eliminated and that would take away my job prospects, just really the foundation of life that I have started already,” Mazariegos said.

Mazariegos says he’s noticed a growing concern among other DACA recipients, many of whom, like him, are about to graduate college, begin new jobs and, in some instances, purchase homes.

“So it is something that will affect all of those transactions, it will disrupt our lives, so that is what we’re afraid of,” he said.

Mimi Marton, director of the Tulsa Immigrant Resource Network at the University of Tulsa College of Law, said her office has received many calls from people concerned and curious about what the prospect of a Trump administration could mean for the country’s immigration policies.

“The immigrant communities are, right now, pretty fearful and anxious,” she said. “Immigration law is extremely complicated, so when someone talks about deportation, even folks who have immigrant status, who have the authority to be here, are pretty terrified about what that means.”

Marton said her office works hard to remind people that undocumented persons have certain constitutional rights and that the government does not have the authority to just pick up people and send them back to their homelands.

“One of those rights is a right to due process, to a hearing prior to deportation … to a hearing before an immigration judge before you can actually be physically removed from the country,” Marton said.

Marton praised the DACA program, saying the law allowed many young people to fully participate in society. And although there are indications the Trump administration will not eliminate the program, Marton said she really has no idea what the president-elect’s immigration policies will look like.

“We’re all just waiting to see what exactly the policy is going to be,” she said.

She is, however, heartened to hear the positions Bynum, Jordan and Regalado have taken on the issue.

“From an advocate’s perspective, we hope that that is the position that is taken,” Marton said. “That it isn’t the everyday person who has committed a minor traffic violation.

“That is our hope, is that there isn’t this mass deportation.”

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