THE BUZZ: Narrative by Numbers

By on April 18, 2017

Unpacking ICE’s past, present and future in Teton County.

JACKSON HOLE, WY – Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was recently in Jackson to arrest nine undocumented people. These detainments—four were arrested—have spurred questions about ICE’s role in Teton County.

Although local law enforcement officials emphasized the visit was routine, some remain wary. According to immigration attorney Rosie Read, the weekly consultations she offers to the immigrant populace are regularly full. “I have consistently hit my cap each week,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Matt Carr maintains, “We want to put the Latino community at ease. These are targeted operations.” Carr explained that ICE visits Jackson regularly—he estimated five to six times a year—to arrest individuals with serious criminal convictions: “They don’t come up here for traffic offenses. It’s not for minor situations.”

A recent joint statement issued by Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen and Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith attempted to allay community fears about deportations in Jackson. Their message was that law-abiding people and those with minor offenses have nothing to fear. But ICE’s recent visit has people wondering just what “routine visits” mean, and examining ICE arrests in Teton County offers little solace.

‘Criminal’ in Teton County

Though ICE has had a presence in Jackson Hole for at least 20 years, what is considered routine varies drastically year to year. Local law enforcement officials say ICE targets mostly serious criminals, but evidence suggests ICE has expanded its reach in the county.

Data compiled by Syracuse University reveals that between 2002 and 2015 in Teton County, 40 percent of ICE arrestees had no criminal conviction. Of those with convictions, 72 percent were misdemeanors.

The vast majority of arrests occurred between 2007 and 2012.

Whalen says he is happy with ICE’s role in Jackson, and has not witnessed overreach. “I’m living this world. I talk to ICE. I see this jail,” he said.

If the sheriff’s department arrests a person who is undocumented, law enforcement notifies ICE. “Ninety percent of the time, they say ‘no thank you,’” Whalen said. Though four people may have been arrested recently, Whalen says many more have been let go.

Yet, with a new administration seeking to expand ICE’s reach, it’s worth noting how the agency interacts in communities.

Victor Narro, a professor at UCLA and expert on immigration and labor law, believes that one of the problems with current immigration enforcement is that policies may appear one way on paper, but are different in practice: “The Department of Homeland Security is telling us one thing, but agencies are very decentralized and there is no oversight.”

Syracuse’s Trac Immigration program obtained data from ICE for every 1-247 detainer request form issued between 2003 and 2016. These forms request that local jails or facilities hold undocumented people for up to 48 hours longer than normal so ICE can initiate immigration enforcement action. As Carr stated, until ICE can transfer detainees to other facilities, “we will house these people as a courtesy.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, these detainers are unconstitutional, as they occur without due process and sometimes without “probable cause of any violation.”

ICE classifies crimes in three levels, and reportedly targets those who have committed the most serious offenses. Level 1 crimes—defined as aggravated felonies—are the most serious. Level 2 criminals are those convicted of any felony, or three or more crimes each punishable by less than one year. The level 3 classification includes those convicted of a misdemeanor.

Since 2003, ICE has created detainer requests for 845 people in Teton County—the highest amount in the state. ICE took custody of 525 of those people. Out of the 525, 127 had been charged but not convicted of a crime, and 83 had no criminal record.

Of the 315 people with convictions, more than 70 percent had committed misdemeanors (level 3) while just 15 percent had committed level one crimes.

In 2007, Teton County was in the top 61 percent of facilities in the country for its number of detainments and transfers of undocumented people. It’s difficult to track the transfer process. Of the four Jackson individuals recently apprehended, three are no longer listed as being in an ICE facility. According to the ICE detainee locator, the fourth, Armando Montiel Garcia, is in the Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico.

From Jackson, many detainees go to Denver, like the nine detainees in Teton County taken into custody by ICE between December 2014 and August 2015. Colorado Public Radio reported that the federal immigration court there has the longest delay in the nation for immigrants waiting to have their cases heard. Most wait about two and a half years. There are 9,420 cases pending.

Narro says the vast majority of detainees will be deported without ever having legal representation.

Wyoming doesn’t deny ICE

ICE has increasingly relied on county jails to temporarily hold undocumented people during enforcement operations. Recently, local agencies across the country have resisted ICE’s requests. Narro explained that local agencies are under no obligation to cooperate with ICE, though the Trump administration has threatened to revoke federal funding from those who resist.

Wyoming is one of seven states that has never resisted an ICE request.

Whalen says the county has no plans to change its policy of notifying ICE if they arrest someone who happens to be undocumented, and serving as a temporary detainment facility for those apprehended by ICE. “I have my policy because I shudder at the notion that I let someone go and they do something to endanger our community or country. I’m fulfilling my duty,” Whalen said.

Detainer requests are not a result of Trump’s administration. In fact, Narro says it was under Obama that the pattern was entrenched: “Obama started the narrative that goes arrest, detain, deport.” That process has now become normalized, and Narro expects that “Trump will accelerate what Obama started. It’s going to get a lot worse. We’ll see more executive orders. Trump has found what resonates with his voters.”

Indeed, fear has already rippled through Teton County in recent months. Carmen Bonilla, a Jackson local in her 20s, has watched this fear take hold. Until recently, Bonilla managed a small business in Jackson. “When ICE came, I got calls from two employees saying they couldn’t come in today,” she said.

They had heard the rumors, and were too scared to leave their houses. Bonilla called the police department and learned that ICE would only be targeting specific individuals. Still, her employees were scared: “The community is just in fear. They would rather be safe than go to work.”

Across the country, families are struggling to manage this fear, especially when many households have mixed immigration statuses. According to a report by Erikson Meier Consulting, 43 percent of Latinos in Jackson are foreign born, which is probably an underreported percentage. This is true for Bonilla. “In my family, my brother is undocumented but his wife and kids were born here,” she said. “We tell him not to drive at night. When we hear ICE is in town, the first person we think about are our friends and family.”

The immigrant community is small and close-knit, Bonilla says. One deportation, especially when it’s public, has deep impacts. “If someone gets deported for any reason, it’s hard. If one family gets affected, that’s how fear starts.”

In cities like L.A., there are many resources to support immigrants, Narro said. However, it is places like Jackson that worry him—smaller towns with fewer resources that have sizable immigration populations.

It rests with the community, then, to understand what is happening and protect its vulnerable members. PJH

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