State, Local Police Slowly Warming to Immigration Enforcement

Eleanor Stables, Congressional Quarterly, November 7, 2007

State and local law enforcement agencies have shown increased interest over the past year in a program to train officers to enforce federal immigration law, and Congress will soon decide whether to fund further growth of the program.

Greater interest in the program worries some of its critics, who say involving local police in immigration enforcement leads to less cooperation from immigrants and heightens the risk of racial profiling.

A total of 597 officers in 34 state and local law enforcement agencies participate in what is known as the 287(g) program, named for the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (PL 101-649) authorizing it.

Of those 34, 26 joined up in fiscal 2007. They’re spread across 15 states. The program was authorized in 1996, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was the first to sign on in 2002.

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Center for Immigration Studies senior policy analyst Jessica Vaughan says the 287(g) program has “already shown phenomenal results” and is “a force multiplier for ICE”—agencies have used it to target problems such as gangs, drugs, human smuggling and document fraud.

Law enforcement agencies have a variety of such agreements with ICE, which trains and supervises the officers. Half the 34 agencies participating have 287(g)-trained officers solely in their jail system, 13 use it only outside of the jail system, and four agencies use it both inside and outside the jail system.

Colorado State Patrol Master Trooper Ron Watkins said Colorado’s 22 state troopers with 287(g) authority focus on three major highways that are corridors for smuggling illegal immigrants.

The officers make only probable cause stops, such as for speeding or driving while intoxicated. Before they had 287(g) authority, if an officer stopped a driver and found a car of suspected illegal immigrants he would sometimes have to wait hours for ICE to arrive and take over, Watkins said in an interview. That would prevent the officer from doing other work, and sometimes the officer would be called away and the illegal immigrants would be free to go, he said. Now the officers can put illegal immigrants in custody and begin the deportation process.

In other uses of the program, before releasing inmates at the end of their sentence, 287(g)-authorized officers confirm inmates are illegal immigrants, issue them a court date, and ensure they are not released when their regular prison term ends.

Under the 287(g) program, 30,000 criminals have been identified as potentially deportable since the beginning of fiscal 2006, according to ICE, although the agency says it cannot break the data down into how many have actually been deported. ICE deported 271,000 illegal immigrants in fiscal 2007, and has 27,500 detention beds to hold those awaiting a court appearance to determine if they are deported.

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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has eight officers who use 287(g) authority full-time to identify inmates that can be deported. The sheriff’s department lacks the resources to pursue deportation of all eligible inmates so it focuses on those with the most serious offenses and with previous deportations, L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Margarito Robles said in an interview. “We’re targeting criminal aliens, not the general public, not the hardworking guy who’s here trying to make a living for his family,” Robles added.

Funding Enforcement

Robles agrees with one common criticism of the 287(g) program—that the federal government, not states and localities, should pay for enforcing federal immigration law. That would be the case “in an ideal world” but the program “works for us, there’s definitely an advantage for us doing this.” The federal government pays for the four- or five-week training, but not the salaries of the officers during or after training. Robles says some money is saved by deporting criminals rather than later rearresting and detaining them, making it difficult to determine the net cost of the program.

Federal State Criminal Alien Assistance Program grants are also available to cover the cost of extended detention time for inmates awaiting deportation proceedings. But despite the grant program, Arizona—which plans to soon have 70 officers with 287(g) authority within its Department of Corrections and Department of Public Safety—has paid more than $300 million in the past three years for incarcerating illegal immigrants beyond their regular sentences, Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano ‘s spokeswoman Jeanine L’Ecuyer said in an interview.

The president requested $25.3 million for the program in fiscal 2008, to cover the training of an additional 250 officers, 350 detention beds and associated staffing, and related information technology.

Congress appropriated $5 million for the 287(g) program in fiscal 2006 and $5.4 million in fiscal 2007, not including a supplemental appropriation in late fiscal 2006 of $10.1 million, available through the end of fiscal 2007.

The Senate version of the fiscal 2008 Homeland Security appropriations bill (HR 2638), which is yet to go to conference, specifies funding of at least $5.4 million to facilitate 287(g) agreements, and some of $3 billion for border security could also be used for the program. The House version of the bill includes $17.3 million for the program.

Concerns Over Profiling, Interaction

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Opponents fear the program will increase racial profiling and deter immigrants from reporting crimes and interacting in other ways with officials. They also complain that enforcement of immigration law is a responsibility of the federal government, not local or state police, and that the program is an “unfunded mandate” because it covers training, detention and IT, but not salaries. Friedland also said that the four weeks of training officers receive is not enough to become well-versed in immigration law.

“The only way they [law enforcement officers] can do this is by racial profiling—they would be suspicious of people who look foreign and sound foreign, and that’s racial and ethnic profiling,” Friedland said.

ICE’s efforts to enforce fairness in the program won’t prevent racial profiling, says Friedland. The agency might supervise the program and a 287(g) agreement could include complaint procedures and cultural sensitivity training, but the bulk of work under the program will be done without ICE agents present, and the public may not be aware of complaint procedures, Friedland said. The program also lacks an independent review of whether it is causing increased racial profiling, she said.

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Another common criticism of local law enforcement involvement in immigration efforts is that it “interferes with the ability of police to protect communities,” in Friedland’s words, because immigrants will be afraid to report crimes or that they have been witness to a crime in case they are asked their or their family’s immigration status. Programs directed at illegal immigrants tend to create fear in legal ones too, she said.

Center for Immigration Studies’ Vaughan says the argument that the 287(g) program will lead to less cooperation with police from the immigrant community “is a complete myth and not supported by any kind of empirical or anecdotal evidence I have ever seen, and most ICE and law enforcement will tell you its complete nonsense. . . . Victims of crime simply aren’t going to be subject to removal orders—it’s not going to be a priority.” The argument “is promulgated by organizations that just don’t like immigration law enforcement,” Vaughan said. Most agencies seeking the 287(g) agreements emphasize it won’t be used to target victims, witnesses or informants but rather criminals, she said.

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Participating Entities

The following have 287(g) memorandums of agreement with ICE (listed alphabetically by state):

Alabama State Police, Ala.

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Herndon Police, Va.

Prince William-Manassas Adult Detention Center, Va.

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