Last month the Obama administration hired former Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt to coordinate state and local activities for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On the surface, Hurtt’s selection seems like a strange decision. One of his primary duties will be to “oversee and promote partnerships between federal and local officials” on immigration enforcement — responsibility that seems incompatible with Hurtt’s well-publicized opposition to having local police assist with immigration enforcement. Hurtt’s support for “sanctuary cities” is also hardly in sync with the agency’s mission.

As the new state and local coordination director, Hurtt will be responsible for the 287g program, which allows local law enforcement to “act in the stead of ICE agents by processing illegal aliens for removal.” Since its inception, 287g has been one of the few bright spots in America’s fight against illegal immigration.

For example, in the two years after it adopted a 287g program, the Davidson County (TN) Sheriff’s Office arrested and processed for removal more than 5,300 illegal immigrants. The 287g also led to a 46 percent decline in “illegal aliens committing crimes.” At the heart of the program’s success is cooperation between federal and local law enforcement—precisely the type of partnership Hurtt criticized during his time as police chief.

Hurtt has argued: “Immigration enforcement by local police is counterproductive to community policing efforts. It undermines the trust and cooperation of immigrant communities, could lead to charges of racial profiling, and increases our response time to urgent calls for service
Despite the Chief’s fears, the Davidson County numbers tell a different story—one where racial profiling never materialized (arrests of “foreign born” individuals decreased by 31 percent) and the rule of law prevailed.”

Hurtt’s opposition to 287g programs also helped preserve Houston’s status as a “sanctuary city,” where police do not check for immigration papers. Hurtt’s police department did ultimately apply for 287g training on how to use federal individuals already booked into one of Houston’s two jails—ensuring illegals could only be detected after the commission of a crime. Yet, even with these limitations in place, Hurtt remained a steadfast opponent of using local and state police to make immigration arrests.

In fact, Houston’s participation in the 287g program—such as it was—only came as a response to public outrage over the death of Houston police officer Rick Salter, who was shot by an illegal immigrate while serving a search warrant. In the wake of Salter’s murder, it was Houston Mayor Bill White who made the decision to screen city jails for illegals—not Hurtt.

Hurtt’s views predate his time in Houston. Indeed, the following “operations orders,” put into place during Hurtt’s tenure as police chief in Phoenix, offer a devastating review of the kind of “enforcement” polices Hurtt has championed through his career:

  • We do not enforce immigration laws other than when it relates directly to violent crime including human smuggling and drug trafficking;
  • Officers will not stop persons for the sole purpose of determining immigration status;
  • Officers will not arrest a person when the only violation is an infraction of federal immigration law;
  • Officers will not notify ICE/Border Patrol of undocumented persons under the following conditions:
    • When the contacted person is a victim and/or witness of a crime
    • When contacted during a family disturbance
    • The enforcement of a minor traffic offense
    • When the person(s) is/are seeking medical treatment

Perhaps even more surprising, this order outlines scenarios involving an “undocumented person” in which federal authorities “will not be notified”:

  • If the offense is a minor traffic accident
  • If the offense is a misdemeanor and the person meets the cite-and-release criteria (an Arizona traffic ticket and complaint may still be issued)
  • If the person is released; and
  • If the person is released from police custody (not booked) pending further investigation.

The Phoenix Police Department’s mutual aid procedures demonstrate that, if nothing else, Hurtt, an outspoken proponent of sanctuary city policies, practiced what he preached.

Perhaps the Obama administration’s decision to hire Hurtt to oversee ICE’s 287g program shouldn’t come as a surprise at all. Although Hurtt’s hiring may seem unusual to Americans who favor enforcing immigration laws, the former police chief is going to work for an administration that filed a lawsuit to prevent Arizona from locally enforcing federal immigration law. In this context, Hurtt’s hiring becomes chillingly logical—the perfect fit for an administration not interested in the rule of law.

In fact, Hurtt’s hiring, and the outright hostility to local immigration enforcement evidenced in U.S. v. Arizona, seems to signal that the Obama administration is going to intensify its efforts—led for the 18 months by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano—to undermine federal-local partnerships.

If the Obama administration is looking for someone capable of ensuring ICE’s 287g program never realizes its full potential, and sanctuary city policies continue to flourish, then Harold Hurtt is indeed the right man for the job.