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2016 immigration rally

Thousands of Latino protesters and their supporters carry signs outside the Capitol building on Feb. 18, 2016, to protest immigration-related legislation.

For some idea of how misguided the Trump administration’s approach to illegal immigration is, consider the “problem” of illegal immigration in Madison and Dane County, and the method by which the administration would “fix” it.

It starts with the numbers.

It’s hard to get an accurate figure for how many of the 531,000 residents of Dane County or 249,000 residents of Madison are in this country illegally. The Migration Policy Institute puts it at about 10,000 for the years 2010-14, with about 6,000 of them from Mexico.

The Pew Research Center’s estimate for the state as a whole was about 80,000 in 2014, with about 74 percent from Mexico. Dane County makes up about 9 percent of the state’s population, so if immigrants here illegally were spread evenly across the state, that would mean about 7,400 living in the county.

Trump — more so than Barack Obama, who ramped up deportations — says he wants immigration enforcement focused on those who have committed serious crimes. So it’s worth looking at some immigration-related numbers from the Dane County Jail.

As part of the booking process, jail officials ask inmates for their country of birth, and if they are foreign-born and can’t prove they are in the country legally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is contacted.

Of the approximately 16,000 bookings a year at the jail, Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Elise Schaffer said 63 were reported last year to ICE.

Schaffer wasn’t able to immediately check which charges those 63 bookings were for, and the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t track how many people reported to ICE are ultimately deported. According to ICE, the agency took 1,631 convicted criminals and 695 non-criminals into custody last year from the region consisting of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.

These numbers suggest that immigrants who came to this country illegally account for a tiny percentage of serious crime in Madison and Dane County.

Nevertheless, it’s this tiny threat that has Attorney General Jeff Sessions warning municipalities that they could lose out on millions in federal law enforcement grants for failing to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

The Trump administration hasn’t specified what qualifies as cooperation. For the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, the only time immigration status really comes up is during booking, but Sheriff Dave Mahoney contends Dane is not a so-called “sanctuary” county.

Madison police have a formal policy against routinely asking suspects about immigration status or detaining them solely for immigration violations, but Police Chief Mike Koval contends that doesn’t make Madison a sanctuary city.

Dane County currently is making use of about $1.4 million in federal law enforcement grants, and Madison has more than $2.7 million. They go toward fighting addiction, handling mentally ill suspects, hiring officers and other needs.

The Trump administration could make Dane County and Madison ineligible for those kinds of dollars because of their reluctance to help the feds enforce immigration law.

Although that would probably do more to harm to public safety than illegal immigration does.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or