Without the benefit of their state’s strict new immigration law, officers from a single Arizona county helped deport more than 26,000 immigrants from the U.S. through a federal-local partnership program that has been roundly criticized as fraught with problems.
Statistics obtained by The Associated Press show that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office was responsible for deportations or forced departure of 26,146 immigrants since 2007.
That’s about a quarter of the national total of 115,841 sent out of the U.S. by officers in 64 law enforcement agencies deputized to help enforce immigration laws, some since 2006, under the so-called 287(g) program.
The tens of thousands of immigrant arrests show local officials already have a significant amount of authority to enforce immigration laws and help remove illegal immigrants from the country.
There are several other ways local officials can assist, including Secure Communities, a more widely used program that allows local officials to check the fingerprints of anyone they book into their jails against FBI and Homeland Security Department databases.
But the 287(g) program gives officers the most direct authority to stop people on the street, in their cars or in their communities and check whether they are in the country illegally. Federal watchdogs have been critical of the job the Homeland Security Department has been doing in running the program.
The department’s inspector general reported in March that the 287(g) program was poorly supervised and provided insufficient training to officers, including on civil rights law.
Local officers have operated outside their agreements dictating the limits of their authority, the report said. In all, the inspector general made 33 recommendations for overhauling the program, some of which have not yet been resolved. It was the second critical report for the program. The Government Accountability Office had criticized the program in July 2009.
Arpaio has denied the allegations and says he is a target because of his tough immigration enforcement. His office has continued to do immigration sweeps. Arpaio said he is enforcing state anti-smuggling and anti-illegal immigrant hiring laws.
Arpaio said about 100 of his deputies were trained over five weeks to act as federal agents under the 287(g) program. They were trained on racial profiling and other civil rights laws, he said.
The federal government does not pay for local officers to participate in the 287(g) program. U.S. taxpayers pay the federal cost, which has grown from $5 million in 2006 to $68 million in 2010, according to the DHS inspector general. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reimburses some of the local agencies for housing immigrants in their jails. The immigrants can be in the country illegally or legally present but have committed a crime that makes them eligible for deportation.