Get Informed

Subscribe to our newsletters for regular updates, analysis and context straight to your email.

Close Newsletter Signup

U.S. Marshals Exaggerated A Recent ‘Child Recovery’ Sweep in Michigan. Here’s Why That Matters.

Experts say playing up the risk of sex trafficking fuels anxiety and criminalization.

Photo illustration by Anagraph / Photo by frankiefotografie/Getty

U.S. Marshals Exaggerated A Recent ‘Child Recovery’ Sweep in Michigan. Here’s Why That Matters.

Experts say playing up the risk of sex trafficking fuels anxiety and criminalization.


A one-day targeted law enforcement sweep aimed at rescuing “victims of sex trafficking” in Michigan became national news after the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) announced in an Oct. 3. press release: “new USMS Child Recovery Unit recovers 123 children.” The New York Post, among other news outlets, was quick to report on what its headline called a “sex trafficking operation.”

In the sweep, uniformed officers armed with lists of missing children went door to door in the Detroit area, some in protective vests, knocking and asking questions. One goal of the sweep, dubbed Operation MI Safe Kid, was to find “hidden victims,” according to Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Sarah Krebs.

But a closer look reveals that the U.S. Marshals’ press release and, to a greater extent, the resulting news coverage, was misleading. The 123 children were not “recovered,” as the Detroit News later reported. More than 100 were with their parents, relatives, guardians, or at school, according to the Michigan State Police, and the agency is still investigating if any trafficking occurred.

Law enforcement anti-trafficking operations often attract strong media interest, especially if they appear to involve helping children trafficked for sex. But that coverage can distort the public’s understanding of sex trafficking, according to Amy Farrell and Rachel Austin of Northeastern University, who have studied the issue. Misrepresentation of trafficking, they write, “becomes problematic when government actors such as police and political figures use these distorted images as their reference to make decisions about arrests and victim services.”

Kate D’Adamo, a consultant at Reframe Health and Justice who advises anti-trafficking groups, said exaggerating the risk of trafficking often diverts attention from more pervasive dangers. “Obscuring the lives of young people who are experiencing poverty, homelessness, and who are often being failed by the system with flashy headlines means we end up serving the headlines and not those young people,” she told The Appeal.

For the sweep, law enforcement agencies, including the Michigan State Police (MSP), the Detroit Police Department, and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, worked from lists of children reported missing to try to identify those who could have been trafficked. Once officers located a child, Det. Sgt. Krebs said, the child was questioned: “Who did they stay with? Did somebody pay for them to stay somewhere? Did they do favors for them? Did they give them drugs?” Krebs described a 14-year-old that officers found in an abandoned house, who hadn’t eaten in days. “Those are the types of kids we are dealing with and that’s really sad.”

In its own statement, Michigan State Police said all the children located were “interviewed about potential sex trafficking crimes and, as a result, three new sex trafficking cases were opened.”

But that’s not the number that made headlines.

U.S. Marshals’ “123 children” release, for starters, included 16 children from a previous Marshals operation, the Detroit News later reported. Law enforcement did make contact with 107 children during the Sept. 26 sweep, and most were found with their parents, relatives, guardians, or at school. For some, their case files marking them as “missing” were simply out of date. The 14-year-old boy found in an abandoned house, for instance, had previously been placed in foster care, and the abandoned house was reportedly his childhood home. Police said he had been previously removed from his mother’s custody after his father was charged with homicide.

The marshals, when asked by The Appeal about whether the three cases of suspected trafficking they announced in their release were substantiated or if any others had been identified, referred these questions to the Michigan State Police and other “investigating agencies,” including the FBI. “The USMS does not participate in sex trafficking investigations, but assists other agencies for the sole purpose of locating/rescuing missing juveniles who may be victims in those investigations,” said Dave Oney, a spokesperson in the marshals’ public affairs office. The Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development referred those questions to the marshals; spokesperson Darryl Madden said they provided “[m]erely background information and research.” The FBI did not respond to inquiries by press time.

As to the three trafficking cases the Michigan State Police said were opened, they did not confirm whether that meant three children were trafficked. MSP public affairs manager Shanon Banner said, “The investigation will determine that.”

Michigan State Police participated in a similar operation in June, also looking for missing children in an attempt to find victims of trafficking. Again, media reports overstated the operation’s connection to human trafficking. “51 children safe from clutches of harm, human trafficking after Genesee County sweep,” a local Fox affiliate’s headline announced. “Investigators believe that five to as many as 10 of the children were either involved with or could have fallen into sex trafficking,” the station reported at the time. As in the September operation, the vast majority of those children located in what Genesee County police called a “rescue” were not rescued from trafficking situations. MSP told The Appeal they did not have any updates about the children.

Since 2016, Michigan State Police have been co-leaders of a local Joint Anti-Trafficking Taskforce with the Salvation Army Eastern Michigan Division, receiving a $1.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. The grant is meant, in part, to help police identify victims of trafficking. According to current DOJ guidelines for joint anti-trafficking task force grants, applicants are discouraged from using funding “primarily for investigative operations where there are no clearly defined victims.” An MSP grants coordinator said MI Safe Kid was not a task force operation but confirmed that Justice Department-funded task force officers did take part.

Headlines can help drive such funding, but rather than beefing up law enforcement, D’Adamo told The Appeal, funding should go to services—like housing, healthcare, education, and job training—that can help trafficking victims or prevent trafficking. “Police address crimes,” she said. “Services and resources serve people.”

Last month, about a week before Operation MI Safe Kid, the Michigan State Police was dealing with a different trafficking situation: a social media panic. Lt. Michael Shaw used an official Michigan State Police Twitter account to debunk a Facebook post, which had claimed that “a Human Sex Trafficking ring … Operating VERY AGGRESSIVELY in our area” had attempted to abduct multiple children. This wasn’t the first time such a rumor went viral in Michigan: In an earlier Facebook video, viewed 25 million times, a man claimed “suspicious” people attempted to traffic his wife and children from a local Target store at night.

“Human trafficking is serious, but spreading rumors just doesn’t help at all,” Lt. Shaw posted to Twitter of the alleged ring. He told the Detroit Free Press: “If we had that big of a problem, we wouldn’t be tweeting about it. We would be doing something.”

NYPD Unit That Monitored Proud Boys Event Has Troubled History

The Strategic Response Group was created for counter-terrorism but it's involved in everything from Broken Windows policing to suppressing protest.

Officers from the NYPD's Strategic Response Group at a January 2016 ICE protest in downtown Manhattan.
Ashoka Jegroo

NYPD Unit That Monitored Proud Boys Event Has Troubled History

The Strategic Response Group was created for counter-terrorism but it's involved in everything from Broken Windows policing to suppressing protest.


Video depicting members of the far-right group Proud Boys assaulting three protesters while yelling homophobic slurs near 82nd Street and Park Avenue in Manhattan after a recent group event generated outrage from New York politicians, including Governor Andrew Cuomo, and police promises to pursue the perpetrators. Last night, the NYPD made its first arrest of a Proud Boy for his alleged role in the assault.

Law enforcement, politicians, and the media have focused significant attention on the Proud Boys, who held an event Oct. 12 at the Metropolitan Republican Club. But there has been far less scrutiny of the conduct of the officers assigned to the venue from the NYPD’s 19th Precinct and the department’s Strategic Response Group (SRG).

“The SRG seemed to be entirely focused on the anti-fascists,” said photojournalist Shay Horse, whose videos and photos documenting the Proud Boys event were used in publications like the Huffington Post and the New York Times, and were spread widely on social media. “The NYPD allowed the Proud Boys and the 211 Bootboys to march without an escort. Both of these decisions on the NYPD/SRG’s part made the attack possible. By totally ignoring the Proud Boys the police pretty much allowed them to assault people on the streets of New York.”

(The NYPD has defended its handling of the event, saying that participants in the assault dispersed “as soon as they [the NYPD] pulled up.”)

Activists say they are not surprised that the SRG appeared to back off when Proud Boys assaulted protesters because of the unit’s troubled history of suppressing protests, particularly those that call for justice for Black victims of police violence. Indeed, the SRG’s handling of the Proud Boys mirrors the police’s hands-off approach to the violence surrounding the far-right protests in Charlottesville in August 2017 that left one woman dead and many others seriously injured. A report on the tragedy from a former federal prosecutor concluded that the UVA Police Department’s “lack of intervention was obvious to everyone present.”

The SRG was established in early 2015 by then NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who said that the 350-officer unit would be dedicated to “disorder control and counterterrorism protection capabilities.” In his announcement of the SRG, Bratton specifically cited terrorism incidents such as coordinated attacks by Islamic radicals in Mumbai in 2008 that claimed nearly 200 casualties and a January 2015 attack in Paris on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 17 dead. Notably, Bratton also said that the SRG would deal with “events like our recent protests,” referring to the massive protests in New York that began in the summer of 2014 after the police murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown. One march in December 2014 drew approximately 25,000 protesters.

The day after Bratton’s announcement, however, in what the New York Daily News described as a “walked back” statement, James O’Neill, who is now the NYPD’s commissioner, assured the public that the SRG “will not be involved in handling protests and demonstrations. They’ll have no role in protests. Their response is single-fold. They’ll be doing counterterror work.”

But such assurances did not assuage activists or attorneys from the civil rights and public defense communities. In March 2015, attorneys with the New York chapter of the National Lawyers Guild called the SRG “unjustifiably massive, dangerous in its approach, and wasteful” and demanded that the City Council “reject the Strategic Response Group proposal.”

Their skepticism of the SRG has proved to be well founded. Since it was established, the group has expanded into a nearly 800-officer unit that handles protests along with much more mundane policing tasks such as ticketing and animal rescue. (Even Bratton once noted that the SRG had “multiple missions.”) Indeed, in October 2015, an activist spotted members of the SRG policing homeless people in the subways. When the activist confronted one officer and said he thought the unit was supposed to be handling terrorism and protests, the officer said, “That’s not what we’re here for.” In January 2016, a reporter from the New York Times described SRG officers saving a kitten trapped underneath a car on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. A few months later, the unit was deployed with bloodhounds to hunt down a Black 16-year-old boy who escaped police custody after an arrest for turnstile jumping. By September 2018, even SRG officers themselves complained about mission creep: Whistleblowers from the unit complained to the New York Post that their bosses pressured them to meet ticket quotas. “We feel that we’re not as sharp on our tactics,” one officer said, “because they are pulling us away from tactical training to grab numbers.”

Why Accountability, an abolitionist group led by Black women, has observed SRG conduct the ‘new stop and frisk’—traffic stops—in the Bronx,” Shannon Jones, a co-founder of the group, told The Appeal. “SRG is another tentacle of white supremacy seeking to wrap and squeeze Black freedom.”

Jones’s organization and with other grassroots activist groups that engage in street protest have experienced the SRG’s repressive tactics, particularly Black Lives Matter and pro-immigrant protests. The SRG has become a regular fixture at abolitionist group NYC Shut It Down’s weekly #PeoplesMonday protests, where activists highlight stories of people killed by police. The SRG showed up at this week’s #PeoplesMonday, just days after the Proud Boys event.

In addition to violently arresting pro-immigrant protesters in February 2017 and routinely harassing and intimidating Occupy ICE NYC protesters in Foley Square in July, the SRG also helped ICE detain immigrant activist Ravi Ragbir in January. When protesters attempted to stop ICE from taking Ragbir, the SRG pushed, choked, and arrested protesters, some of whom were local politicians. Later, when Ragbir was taken to a hospital, he said there were about 20 people watching him, half of whom were part of the SRG.

The SRG’s ever-expanding power and focus has also led to deadly consequences for Black and brown people.

In December 2017, the SRG initiated a low-level drug-and-gun investigation that led to police raiding a Bronx apartment and killing 69-year-old Mario Sanabria. Officers claimed that he swung a machete at cops, but Sanabria’s family and his roommate, a 92 year-old-man, insisted that he never wielded the sword against the cops. The police said they were acting on a “legitimate search warrant” but Sanabria’s family insisted that they acted on a bad tip from a confidential informant and were searching for a relative named “Daniel Conde.” “We have nobody in our family named Daniel,” one family member said.

In April, four officers, including two from the SRG, shot and killed 34-year-old Saheed Vassell on a Brooklyn street corner. The cops said that they had received calls about a man with a gun and that the pipe that Vassell was holding when he was killed resembled a weapon. “Why were SRG, a militarized strategic force, responding to a 911 call?” asked his brother Andwele Vassell. Days later, during a large march in Brooklyn demanding justice for Vassell, the SRG showed up to try to intimidate protesters. This week, Vassell’s father Eric met with New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood to discuss possible charges against the officers involved in his son’s death. “This is the tactics of the NYPD to just [let] the families suffer for years and years and years,”  he said Tuesday. “I’ve seen them do that. They do all types of things to cause us to break down. It’s a game that they keep on playing with us over and over, wanting us to believe they’ll do good. But when it comes to people of color, they see us as minorities and because we do not have no power, they keep on spinning us over and over.”

Unlike Vassell and Sanabria, Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes wasn’t shot when he left the group’s Oct. 12  event waving a samurai sword he had just used to re-enact the 1960 assassination of Japanese socialist Inejiro Asanuma by an ultranationalist who has since become an icon in far right movements. Instead, SRG officers escorted him to his car and then tried to arrest anti-fascists who appeared to throw objects, like a plastic bottle, in his direction. When confronted with this fact, an NYPD spokesman tweeted that “the ‘sword’ was plastic” to which a Twitter user responded, “Oh so now police can distinguish between real weapons and toy weapons?”

Activists with the Committee to Stop FBI Repression-NYC have recently demanded the disbanding of the SRG, a call that resonates with Horse after witnessing the unit’s conduct at the Proud Boys event. “The SRG has no business policing protests with such heavy-handed tactics, acting like an occupying army more so than a police force,” he said.

Jones of Why Accountability, like many other Black and brown activists in NYC, says she isn’t surprised by what she sees as the SRG’s laissez-faire treatment of the Proud Boys. She views the SRG’s mission as similar to general police functions, which she describes as “social control, the protection of private property, and repression of the Black liberation movements in New York City.”

“We ain’t having it,” Jones said. “Black freedom now. Abolition Now.”

More in Explainers

Four states could legalize marijuana, and other initiatives on the ballot next month

Four states could legalize marijuana, and other initiatives on the ballot next month


In This Edition of the Political Report

October 18, 2018: 14 states hold referendums in which voters will weigh in directly on measures relevant to the criminal justice system and law enforcement practices.

  • Florida: Will voters open the door to retroactively applying criminal justice reforms?

  • Florida: State could overhaul its regime of mass disenfranchisement

  • Louisiana: Amendment 2 would require unanimous jury verdicts, as in 48 other states

  • Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah: Four states vote on legalizing marijuana

  • Ohio: Reform package would make drug possession a misdemeanor—retroactively

  • Oregon: State’s 30-year-old ‘sanctuary’ law is under threat

  • Quick links: Morgan County, Alabama, debates food funds, and six states vote on ‘Marsy’s Law’

We are excited to introduce The Appeal: Political Report, a website that brings this newsletter’s focus on the local politics of criminal justice reform and mass incarceration to a new medium. It features stories and tools to explore local developments nationwide. It also highlights key elections that will shape criminal justice, law enforcement, and immigration policy.

Florida: Will voters open the door to retroactively applying criminal justice reforms?

Florida’s “Savings Clause” bars the legislature from reducing people’s existing sentences. This provision is an obstacle to meaningful decarceration since it significantly limits the reach of prospective criminal justice or sentencing reforms, as the Florida Times-Union’s Andrew Pantazi has laid out. Florida is the state that goes furthest in barring new legislation from applying retroactively, according to the state’s Constitution Revision Commission.

On Nov. 6, Floridians will weigh in on Amendment 11, a measure to repeal the “Savings Clause” and allow reforms to apply retroactively. It needs 60 percent to pass. It was placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission, which cites as a motivating inequity the fact that people who committed certain drug offenses before Florida modified its sentencing statutes in 2014 are serving far longer sentences than people convicted of the same offense today.

Some Florida newspapers, including the Miami Herald and the Tampa Bay Times, have endorsed the “no” vote because they worry that the National Rifle Association might push for making the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law retroactive. Melba Pearson, deputy director of the ACLU of Florida, which supports Amendment 11, argues that this concern is “valid” but “outweighed” by the positive changes the measure would enable.

“Amendment 11 would be a great vehicle for reducing mass incarceration,” Pearson told me. As examples of reforms that could be made retroactive, she mentions revising mandatory minimum guidelines, ending the suspension of driver’s licenses and the use of a “career criminal” designation, and legalizing marijuana.

Florida: Voters could overhaul the Sunshine State’s regime of mass disenfranchisement

No state disenfranchises as many of its residents as Florida. A staggering 10 percent of its voting-age population is stripped of the right to vote because of a felony conviction, according to a report the Sentencing Project released in 2016. More than 20 percent of Black adults are affected, an unsurprising racial disparity given the Jim Crow roots of the state’s statutes.

Florida is one of four states that disenfranchise people even after they complete a felony sentence. Floridians must wait for at least five years after the completion of their sentence to even apply for their voting rights to be restored. The application process itself takes many more years, and culminates in a hearing in front of the governor and other statewide officials. The board enjoys full discretion as to what and how to decide, including over what questions to ask applicants, and it only hears a few hundred cases a year. Under Governor Rick Scott’s tenure, which began in 2011, Florida has restored the voting rights of approximately only 3,000 people.

Amendment 4 would overhaul this system. It would enfranchise an estimated 1.5 million people by automatically restoring people’s voting rights once they complete a felony sentence, except for people convicted of murder or a sexual offense. The amendment needs the support of 60 percent of voters, a threshold that polls suggests is realistic. But of course a significant share of Floridians—the very people whose rights are being decided—are barred from participating.

This referendum is the culmination of organizing efforts led by the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and its president Desmond Meade, who is himself disenfranchised. Mother Jones and the New York Times Magazine recently published in-depth profiles of the coalition’s work.

Louisiana: Amendment 2 would require unanimous jury verdicts, as in 48 other states

The writers of Louisiana’s 1898 Constitution couldn’t outright ban African Americans from serving on a jury, but they circumvented that limitation by enabling juries to convict over the objections of holdouts. Today, Louisianans can be convicted of any felony (including murder) by non-unanimous juries; 10 out of 12 jurors need to convict. This has made trials likelier to end in a guilty verdict in Louisiana than elsewhere, which contributes to the state’s high incarceration rate and may increase the pressure defendants face to accept a plea deal.

Amendment 2, if adopted in November, would revise the Constitution and require unanimous jury verdicts for all felony convictions.

The measure enjoys an unusually broad array of support, including endorsements from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Its most prominent opponent is Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is preparing to challenge Governor John Bel Edwards in 2019. The Louisiana District Attorneys Association is staying neutral, and some of the state’s most prominent DAs have even endorsed it.

Louisiana’s non-unanimous juries have disproportionately harmed African Americans, as the New Orleans Advocate documented in a series of investigations this year. First, Black Louisianans are likelier to have been convicted over at least one holdout’s objections. Of the trials reviewed by the newspaper, 33 percent of those that ended in a white defendant’s conviction were non-unanimous compared to 43 percent that ended in a Black defendant’s conviction. Second, holdout jurors whose opinion is disregarded are likelier to be African Americans—and African Americans are underrepresented on juries to start with. “Maybe my life experience is a little different than some of the white people,” a Black juror told the Advocate after serving in a case in which a Black defendant was convicted of murder over the dissent of two Black holdouts.

Oregon is the only other state that allows non-unanimous verdicts. It would find itself isolated if Louisianans adopt Amendment 2 next month.

Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Utah: Four states vote on legalizing marijuana

North Dakota has the nation’s second-highest rate of arrest per marijuana user, and it issues harsher than average punishments, according to a Washington Post analysis. But on Nov. 6, North Dakotans—alongside Michiganders—could legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

There are two significant differences between the states’ initiatives.

First, Michigan’s is more specific and leaves less room for legislative amendment. It would allow people to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, set up a taxed system of commercial businesses, and enable municipalities to regulate these businesses more harshly within their borders. The legislature would need a supermajority to revise these specifications if voters adopt the measure. North Dakota’s measure is less detailed. Writing in Pot Network, Meg Ellis calls it “vague regarding laying a legal foundation for a recreational pot program.”

“This essentially is a bill asking voters, ‘Do you believe that we should end this failed prohibition of marijuana or not?’” Cole Haymond, an adviser for the Legalize ND campaign, told me. He added that the campaign is open to discussing possible amendments with lawmakers before the measure’s implementation, if it is adopted. “We welcome having a seat at the table to cast aside any concern, if they want to add any taxes, regulation, licensing,” he said.

Second, North Dakota’s initiative (unlike Michigan’s) would expunge the records of people already convicted of many marijuana offenses. However, it would not reduce sentences that people are still serving, even if it’s for an act that is no longer illegal.

Missouri and Utah are also voting on whether to legalize marijuana—but this time for medical use. (Oklahoma just took this step via referendum in June.)

Missouri’s ballot somehow contains three separate referendums to legalize medical marijuana. Each enables patients to acquire marijuana if they suffer from a qualifying condition, but they propose different tax structures and only one allows home-grown marijuana. If more than one passes, the one with the most votes becomes law. The Springfield News-Leader provides a useful overview of these measures’ specifications and differences.

Utahns get to vote on only one measure. According to the Deseret News, Proposition 2 would enable people who meet certain conditions to buy two ounces of marijuana over a two-week period; it would also provide for 15 dispensaries across the state, and enable some people to grow marijuana for personal use at home.

Ohio: Reform package would make drug possession a misdemeanor—retroactively

Issue 1 would overhaul Ohio’s sentencing guidelines and probation system, cutting incarceration through a multipronged approach.

First, it would make possessing any drug a misdemeanor rather than a felony—at least for one’s first two convictions. This would decrease incarceration over new offenses since people arrested for possession would generally no longer face prison terms. Five states have already reclassified drug possession as a misdemeanor, all since 2014 (California and Oklahoma via referendum). Second, it would bar reincarceration over minor probation violations that aren’t themselves a crime. Third, it would enable existing sentences to be reduced. It would do so by increasing the maximum reduction one can obtain for participating in rehabilitation programs to 25 percent from 8 percent, and also by making the new drug statutes retroactive: People currently incarcerated for drug offenses could petition for new sentences. Of the five states with corresponding reforms, only California allowed retroactive revisions, according to the Urban Institute.

Policy Matters Ohio, a group that backs Issue 1, estimates that these provisions combined would decrease the prison population by approximately 10,000. The Urban Institute finds that the first alone (making drug possession into a misdemeanor) would cut it by 3,400.

“Mass incarceration of drug addicts who should be in treatment is unwise,” Richard Cordray, Democrats’ candidate for governor, has argued. Critics have responded that Issue 1 represents a threat to public health and safety. “We could easily become a magnet for substance abuse activity because there will be, in effect, very little consequence to engaging in such behavior,” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican, wrote in a statement. (Fault lines have been largely partisan, with Democratic politicians generally supportive and GOP ones generally opposed; a prominent exception is Steven Dettelbach, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, who opposes the measure.)

The warnings about the safety risks of reclassifying drug possession as a misdemeanor are not supported by a new Urban Institute study about the impact that doing so has had in five states. “Reducing incarceration for drug offenses can produce significant public safety benefits when paired with investments in drug treatment and crime prevention strategies,” the authors write.

Oregon: State’s 30-year-old ‘sanctuary’ law is under threat

President Trump’s aggressive approach toward immigration enforcement is echoing in Oregon. On November’s ballot is Measure 105, a referendum that would repeal the state’s “sanctuary” law (ORS 181A.820).

Oregon adopted its sanctuary law in 1987 to prohibit local law enforcement from “detecting or apprehending” individuals over their immigration status. An impetus behind the law was to bar deputies from profiling people based on who they suspect might be undocumented. Repealing this law would expand local law enforcement’s ability to help federal immigration authorities arrest undocumented immigrants. Measure 105 is championed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that favors severe immigration restrictions.

The sheriffs of Oregon’s three largest counties (Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas) all oppose Measure 105; Washington’s sheriff, Pat Garrett, co-wrote an op-ed defending the “sanctuary” law in August. A group of sheriffs representing smaller, more rural counties endorsed repeal in August through a statement that ties illegal immigration to criminality; they write that immigration law-violations are “precursors to other crimes illegal immigrants routinely commit in their efforts to conceal their illegal presence.” Numerous studies contradict such a connection.

What is striking about this repeal push is that Oregon’s sanctuary law does not even affect local law enforcement’s ability to partner with federal authorities when it comes to people already jailed on grounds others than immigration. Oregon’s sheriffs can notify ICE when they detain foreign-born individuals—and Garrett himself engages in this practice daily, The Oregonian reported.

Many of the recent debates about how to restrict local cooperation with ICE (for instance in Minneapolis or Orange County, California) have focused on going an extra step and restricting local officials’ cooperation with ICE even within jails.

Quick hits: Morgan County, Alabama, debates food funds, and six states vote on ‘Marsy’s Law’

Morgan County, Alabama: Alabama sheriffs are allowed to personally pocket money leftover from jail food funds. Governor Kay Ivey curtailed—but did not abolish—this practice in July. Morgan County, which has been a prime example of the abuses to which this rule opens the door, is holding a local referendum on barring it. I wrote about this issue in more detail in July.

Florida, Georgia. Kentucky, North Carolina, Nevada, and Oklahoma: An initiative organized by a California billionaire to enshrine victims’ rights in state constitutions, “Marsy’s Law” has already passed via referendum in six states since 2008 and it is being considered by six more in November. These measures, which are broadly but not entirely similar, strengthen victims’ ability to testify at hearings, mandate that they be notified of certain developments, and often empower them to refuse to speak with defense attorneys; they also broaden who is classified as a victim. Critics argue that these measures promote punitive outcomes and harm defendants’ right and due process, as Meaghan Ybos reported for The Appeal in March and Sophie Quinton for Stateline in October. For instance, they have extended pretrial detentions because of the mandate that victims be notified prior to a release; they have empowered prosecutors to target investigators who seek to get in contact with victims, rendering it more arduous to mount a defense; and they have constrained appeals within time limits. Past Marsy’s Laws have occasioned legal battles, most notably in California over a provision that lengthens the time between parole hearings, and Montana, whose Supreme Court overturned the law in 2017 for doing too many things at once.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next week.

More in Podcasts