This is post #6 on sanctuary cities. You may find the other posts here.

The 150 localities currently cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) incur high costs due to formally entering into 287(g) agreements. While many jurisdictions prefer to avoid these costs, there has been considerable federal pressure on local and state law enforcement to cooperate with ICE and sign these agreements. But what are 287(g) agreements? 287(g) agreements expand local and state law enforcement’s responsibilities to include enforcement of immigration laws. Jurisdictions must also fund associated training costs and detention, and contend with the potential for legal liability associated with 287(g) agreements. Here, we will further examine the cost of 287(g) agreements and their effects on local jurisdictions, and why alternatives to 287(g) should be considered.

Training, detention, legal liability, and local economic impact: Costs associated with 287(g) agreements


While ICE covers the cost of training of deputized officers, state and local governments shoulder the majority of costs associated with a 287(g) agreement. Local authorities are responsible for travel, housing, and per diems for officers during their ICE training, associated salaries, and overtime for work performed in furtherance of 287(g) responsibilities. 

For example, in 2008, Arizona’s Maricopa County sheriff’s office had a $1.3 million budget deficit solely due to overtime associated with its 287(g) agreement. The 287(g) agreement in Gwinnett County, Georgia, cost taxpayers as much as $3.7 million per year over eight years, which would have amounted to 5 percent of the total sheriff’s budget in 2012. Denver’s 287(g) program cost taxpayers up to $1.5 million annually, roughly the amount spent on its entire Family Violence Unit. 


ICE states that a benefit of 287(g) agreements is to limit the amount of time individuals spend in the agency’s custody. However, in practice, these agreements do not seem to decrease time in ICE custody and shift the cost burden from the federal to local government. Detention is costly; a 2012 report by Justice Strategies found that the average length of stay for people released from the Los Angeles County Jail to ICE custody was 32.3 days. The average length of stay for all other individuals released was just 11.7 days. At a cost per prisoner of $113 per day, this amounts to an average additional $2,328 per detainee for ICE at the expense of local taxpayers. 

Legal liability

In addition to detention costs, what 287(g) agreements do is make localities also bear a legal responsibility for individuals held in their local jails. ICE detainers are requests to hold individuals beyond their otherwise lawful incarceration time in a local jail or prison. Due to variation in state-to-state rulings on detention length, localities with 287(g) agreements risk breaking the law when complying with an ICE detainer. Local law enforcement could be held liable if the arrestee is held beyond 48 hours – regardless of whether the jurisdiction is complying with an ICE detainer – or if the detainer is mistakenly placed on a citizen. 

The litigation costs can be enormous. Maricopa County, Arizona, was ordered to pay $43 million in litigation fees due to lawsuits directly related to its 287(g) program, largely attributed to racial profiling and discrimination against immigrant communities. Other localities have also seen significant legal costs. In 2017, Los Angeles County paid $255,000 to settle one named plaintiff’s detainer claim. The same year, San Francisco paid a $190,000 settlement to an individual unlawfully turned over to ICE, and Spokane settled a detainer lawsuit for $49,000. In 2018, San Juan County paid $300,000 to settle a detainer class-action lawsuit, and paid named plaintiffs additional sums to settle their claims. We have a more extensive discussion on the legal liability of 287(g) agreements here, and will focus on mistaken detainment, racial profiling, and discrimination associated with 287(g) agreements in our next piece in this series.

Local economic impact

287(g) jurisdictions experience not only the direct costs of their 287(g) programs, but indirect costs to their local economies. A recent Center for American Progress report analyzed 40 localities with current 287(g) agreements and found that immigrant households in those communities generated almost $66 billion in spending power and contributed $24 billion in tax revenue. Yet, localities with 287(g) agreements may experience a decline in their immigrant population: a report by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill attributes both Mecklenburg and Alamance counties sales tax and local business revenue reductions to a decrease in their immigrant population. Discouraging the growth of immigrant communities may harm local economies.

Why 287(g) jurisdictions pursue alternatives and terminate their agreements with ICE: Virginia and Oklahoma

To illustrate the significant costs jurisdictions encounter, consider the cases of Prince William County, Virginia, and Tulsa County, Oklahoma: 

Prince William County, Virginia 

In June 2020, Prince William County ended a decade-long 287(g) agreement with ICE, primarily due to the effect on their local budget, daily operating costs, and maintenance fees. 

In 2010, Prince William County paid $25.9 million over five years to implement its 287(g) agreement with ICE, in the form of staffing and detention costs. While these costs eventually decreased to $160,000 annually in 2019, they had continued to impact on the Prince William County budget. A study by the Brookings Institute found that the county appropriated an extra $1.4 million of local tax revenue to fund start-up costs and take money from its “rainy day” fund to pay for the 287(g) program. Costs associated with the 287(g) program were paid for with cuts to local police and fire departments. 

The program’s debatable effectiveness was also cited as a reason for ending the agreement. Despite the ongoing rhetoric which claims that sanctuary cities actively shelter “violent criminals”, most individuals deported under policies such as Secure Communities are low-level offenders. Prince William County Police Chief Barry Barnard criticized the 287(g) agreement, stating, “I have not seen any hard data where the 287 program is a direct cause of any measurable crime reduction in Prince William County.” He also felt that it damaged the department’s ability to develop relationships with county residents. Virginia House of Delegates member Elizabeth Guzman affirmed the ending of Prince William County’s agreement with ICE, “We need to use our local dollars to fix our own problems.”

Tulsa County, Oklahoma

The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO) renewed its 287(g) agreement with ICE in May 2020, only to quickly terminate the agreement the next month. Citing financial concerns, TCSO Spokeswoman Casey Roebuck affirmed the 287(g) agreement’s termination, “Financially, it just made sense to go ahead, end the contract, put those employees back into other positions…”

As with other 287(g) agreements, TCSO was responsible for the salaries, benefits, and overtime of all deputized officers trained by ICE. In addition to these financial concerns, detaining individuals on behalf of ICE led to more extended stays in TCSO jails, and increased the risk of potential health hazards during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moving forward: Don’t pressure localities to sign 287(g) agreements

Local jurisdictions are responding. In February 2017, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez announced that Harris County, Texas, would terminate its 287(g) agreement and instead direct the $675,000 cost towards improving clearance rates for major crimes. Additionally, a group of 63 police chiefs and sheriffs from the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force sent a letter to Congress to formally state their opposition to the pressure on localities to sign 287(g) agreements. 

Despite the skepticism about the effectiveness of the 287(g) program, the Trump administration expressed 287(g) locality compliance as a priority by threatening to withhold funds from sanctuary cities, reflecting the politicization of these issues. State and local jurisdictions that choose not to sign 287(g) agreements with ICE often do so because these programs require high costs of training deputized officers, high detention costs, and increased legal risk. 

State and local jurisdictions should be empowered to consider alternatives to 287(g) agreements that would prevent and fight crime without alienating immigrant communities and jeopardizing public safety. Localities that choose to consider alternatives to 287(g) agreements should not be penalized or pressured to comply with the current administration’s wishes on what has become a partisan issue.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels