00:00ICE By The Numbers

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) has trained and certified more than 1,500 state and local officers on how to "help enforce immigration law," the federal agency's chief said at a conference on border security on Tuesday.

Addressing a crowded room at the 2019 Border Security Expo in San Antonio, Texas, ICE Acting Director Ronald Vitiello said ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) team, which oversees the arrests and deportations of immigrants, has so far signed agreements with 78 law enforcement agencies in 20 states to "train and empower" state and local officers "to enforce federal immigration laws."

While Vitiello said "these partnerships are crucial to carrying out ICE's mission," a growing number of local law enforcement departments across the country have vowed to stop cooperating with ICE over criticisms of the agency's implementation of the Trump administration's hard-line immigration policies.

Earlier this month, the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office joined other law enforcement departments in vowing to stop sharing information with ICE, including alerting the agency when a detainee may be eligible for deportation.

Sheriff Earnell Lucas, who recently took up the helm at the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office, led the policy shift, asserting at a news conference that the decision had nothing to do with politics, but was "the right thing to do."

“We don’t want to place a chilling effect on any one community of not wanting to communicate with law enforcement," Lucas said, addressing fears in the U.S. that undocumented immigrants will avoid turning to law enforcement officials for help over fears of risking arrest and deportation by ICE.

Despite Lucas's warning, one that has been echoed by immigration advocacy groups across the country, Vitiello encouraged all local jurisdictions to participate in forming a partnership with ICE, asserting, "There's really no downside to these agreements."

"These partnerships help minimize officer risk and maximize public safety," he said, adding: "It is much safer for everyone if we take custody of a removable alien in the controlled environment of a jail, where we know they don’t have access to weapons."

Vitiello said that all of ERO's agreements with local law enforcement departments "operate under a jail enforcement model, which means they operate solely within the confines of a jail" and that anyone detained under the agreement will have to have been "first arrested by local law enforcement on other criminal charges."

"It’s a smart program that yields positive results and with greater resources, there’s room for this number to expand significantly," Vitiello said.

The ICE chief said the agency had also recently developed another tool to help local jurisdictions that want to cooperate with ICE but that are "precluded from honoring ICE detainers as a matter of local policy or law."

The Warrant Service Officer program, he said, allows state or local law enforcement officers to be "trained, certified and authorized by ICE to serve and execute administration warrants, which ICE uses to detain immigrants, and serve warrants of removal, outlining immigrants' orders for deportation, despite local policies.

Vitiello said that Fiscal Year 2018 had been a "positive year" for many of ICE's key enforcement initiatives, adding that the agency's success is "carrying over into FY19."

"In Fiscal Year 2018, ERO officers made nearly 160,000 interior arrests, most of whom had a prior criminal record," he said, adding that, "of those arrested, more than 105,000 had at least one criminal conviction, while another 32,977 had pending criminal charges, illustrating ICE’s strong focus on public safety."

The ICE chief said he credited the Trump administration's support for helping the agency's members "do our jobs more effectively as federal law enforcement officers."

"Securing our borders is a fundamental national security priority, as well as a humanitarian issue. However, strong border security must be complemented by interior enforcement efforts," Vitiello said.