Hispanic-majority counties as likely to cooperate with ICE as regions with fewer Latinos: study

UC Santa Cruz study analyzed Secure Communities data

PUBLISHED: January 29, 2019 at 6:30 am | UPDATED: January 29, 2019 at 6:40 am

Sheriff’s and police departments in counties with a majority or near-majority of Hispanic residents were about as likely to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement as their counterparts in counties with smaller-than-average Hispanic populations, according to a new study from a University of California, Santa Cruz professor.

In California, that includes counties in the Central Valley like Kern and Fresno where more than half of all residents are Hispanic. Those counties are also among the more conservative in the state and have sheriffs that have generally supported close cooperation with ICE.

Juan Pedroza, a sociology professor and the study’s author, said that raises the question of whether heavily Hispanic communities will continue supporting strict immigration enforcement or push for more pro-immigration policies, which some activists say is already happening in the Central Valley. The answer could have far reaching implications in the debate over illegal immigration and the construction of a border wall.

Pedroza analyzed nationwide data from the federal Secure Communities program, which allowed ICE to ask sheriff’s and police departments to hold non-citizens they arrested so immigration agents could detain them. The data covers the start of the program around 2008 to mid-2013, when Secure Communities became the target of significant political criticism. Connecticut became the first state to place restrictions on cooperation with ICE in mid-2013, and former President Barack Obama ended Secure Communities the following year. President Trump reinstated the program in 2017.

“This time period really gives us an unvarnished look at, if left to their own devices, which sheriffs are more than willing to cooperate with ICE and which sheriffs are really hesitant and only do so selectively,” Pedroza said.

What Pedroza found was that in counties where less than 20 percent of all residents were Hispanic, law enforcement was likely to cooperate with ICE’s hold requests. About 18 percent of the total U.S. population is Hispanic.

In counties where 20 to 40 percent of the population was Hispanic — such as Santa Clara at 26 percent — law enforcement was less likely to work with ICE, which in turn had a kind of “protective effect” on undocumented immigrants, Pedroza said.

“If you want to look at places that are actually not just talking the talk but walking the walk and pushing back against enforcement against everyone, you want to look at places like San Jose, Chicago and New York,” he said. Those cities are also heavily Democratic and have enacted sanctuary policies in the past few years.

Heavily Hispanic counties, however, don’t support protections for immigrants the same way communities in the 20 to 40 percent range do, even when Pedroza included only Hispanics that are voting-age and U.S. citizens.

Pedroza said part of that could be because not all Hispanic residents hold common views on immigration. “We have social science research evidence that Hispanics that are U.S. born, that have been in the U.S. longer, tend to have more restrictive views on immigration than people who are foreign born or more recently arrived,” he said.

Even those who do oppose strict enforcement may be reluctant to get involved with politics. That was the case with Ariana Martinez-Lott’s family. She said her family gained legal status during the Reagan Administration’s amnesty program in 1985.

“They wanted to just survive and they wanted to forget about their experience of being undocumented, so we didn’t really talk about it much,” Martinez-Lott said. “I actually didn’t even vote until I was like 24.”

She said her family didn’t see a place for itself in politics so it wasn’t an important part of their daily lives.

“Life was about survival and this system, this government, was not created for us so why get involved in it in the first place,” she said.

Now a rapid response coordinator with Faith in the Valley, a pro-immigration advocacy group in the Central Valley, Martinez-Lott said that in the last few years more people in the Hispanic community have started seeing local politics as a way to advocate for immigrant issues.

Jon Rodney, communications director for the California Immigrant Policy Center, said that Secure Communities galvanized a lot of pro-immigration activists in the Central Valley after 2013, when Pedroza’s research stopped.

“I think there’s incredible and courageous organizing on the ground, of community members who are directly affected by those issues and are actively engaged,” Rodney said.

Both Rodney and Pedroza pointed to examples of sheriffs losing re-election campaigns in 2016 and 2018 in Texas, California and North Carolina in part because of past cooperation with ICE.

“There’s more to the story. Yes, they have significant challenges for example with anti-immigrant sheriffs and that’s very real,” Rodney said. “Folks are working to transform what’s going on in the community.”