Police Not Focusing on Dangerous Illegal Immigrants, Study Says

Anna Gorman, Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2009

A federal program that empowers local police to enforce U.S. immigration laws has failed in its promise to target illegal immigrants who pose a threat to public safety or national security, according to a study released today.

Instead of focusing on serious criminals, local law enforcement officers are arresting “day laborers, street vendors, people who are driving around with broken taillights,” said Judith Greene, coauthor of the study by Justice Strategies, a New York-based nonprofit research organization focusing on humane and cost-effective approaches to criminal justice and immigration law enforcement.

At the same time, the costly enforcement program is diverting resources from local police and sheriff departments, the authors wrote. Many of the agreements are in cities where the crime rates are lower than the national average but had Latino population growth higher than the national average, they said.

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Locally, immigration authorities have partnerships with the Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino sheriff’s departments. According to the immigration agency, the program–known as 287(g)–is credited with identifying more than 79,000 suspected illegal immigrants between January 2006 and late 2008. The majority of those have been screened at jails.

The best-known local-federal partnership is in Maricopa County, Ariz., where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has attracted headlines for his immigration enforcement tactics that have included marching illegal immigrant inmates in shackles from a local jail to a tent city. Lawmakers have called upon the U.S. attorney general to investigate the actions of Arpaio.

“Joe Arpaio has a media circus going on around him,” said Aarti Shahani, coauthor of the study. “But there are mini-Joe Arpaios all over the place.”

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[Editor’s Note: “Local Democracy on ICE,” by Aarti Shahani and Judith Greene, is available for download in several formats, along with other, related documents, here.]

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