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Posts Tagged ‘287(g) Program’

What Makes Communities Safe? Debunking the Myth of “Sanctuary Cities”

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2009 at 5:23 pm

In my post yesterday, I discussed the 287(g) program, an agreement between state/local law enforcement agencies and ICE that allows deputized police officers to enforce immigration law.

While I talked about the House Subcommittee on Homeland Security hearing in which the GAO submitted testimony regarding the lack of oversight of the 287(g) program and two law enforcement officers submitted contrasting views of the program, today I wanted to follow up on an issue that is frequently brought up when I talk about 287(g) programs: so-called “sanctuary cities.”

A “sanctuary city” is a city that follows strict community policing policies, or perhaps even passed a state or local “separation” ordinance, ensuring that police officers investigate a crime regardless of a person’s immigration status. In reverse, such “separation” practices ensure that immigrants feel comfortable reporting crimes to the police without fear of deportation.

The logic behind such ordinances is that immigration law is extremely complex, and as I said yesterday, not until 1996 were there even statutes allowing federal immigration agencies to deputize immigration enforcement to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Most immigration violations (all of which are federal) are civil, not criminal, offenses. This means, that to charge someone with an immigration offense, the officer actually has to see the person commit the civil offense–much like a speeding ticket in which the officer must catch you speeding.

While legally this is complicated by presence in the United States being a “positive right,” the point of a “sanctuary city” or a separation ordinance is to ensure that local law enforcement’s energy is focused on keeping communities safe and NOT on checking peoples’ status.

Now, I want to make clear that state and local police officers have ALWAYS had the authority to arrest someone suspected of criminal activity–regardless of their immigration status–and report that person to ICE. It’s only that programs like 287(g) go further by allowing/asking law enforcement to go after what one colleague of mine describes as “windex-wielding hotel maids”–i.e. not exactly the “criminal” that makes our streets unsafe.

In turn, amounting evidence shows that law enforcement officers in non-sanctuary cities spend more time (and money) looking into immigration status than carrying out the warrants of arrest for people who have truly made our communities unsafe.

“Sanctuary cities,” however, have received a lot of negative attention from anti-immigrant advocates. Some members of Congress have even proposed cutting off funds for cities which engage in sanctuary or separation practices. They argue that these cities provide “sanctuary” for foreign-born criminals.

As I pointed out above though, this is a myth that is absolutely not true.

For more information on the “myth” of sanctuary cities, check out Immigration Impact’s new report “Debunking the Myth of ‘Sanctuary Cities: Community Policing Policies Protect American Communities.

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What Makes Communities Safe? A Review of Local Police Enforcement of Immigration Laws Through the 287(g) Program

In enforcement, legislation on March 5, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Yesterday, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing (a recorded video of the hearing is now available) entitled ““Examining 287(g): The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement in Immigration Law.”

The highlight of the hearing was the release of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report “Immigration Enforcement: Controls over Program Authorizing State and Local Enforcement of Federal Immigration Laws Should be Strengthened” which emphasizes the lack of oversight Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has over its locally deputized officers in the 287(g) program.

The 287(g) program was created by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRAIRA, pronouced ir-ah-ir-ah), forming agreements which would allow local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws. But while the program was formed in 1996, no local law enforcement agency had applied for the program until after September 11th. The first program was then finalized in 2002 and today there are 67 287(g) agreement programs operating in 23 states.

The intent of the program was to provide local officers with the power to go after high-level criminals. Given that immigration law is extremely complex–many people consider it a legal equivalent to tax law(!)–delegation of authority was statutorily limited to a select number of officials who underwent a five-week training in immigration law and were subject to ICE’s supervision.

However, the GAO report points out that:

  1. The program lacks key internal controls
  2. The program objectives have not been laid out or documented in program-related materials
  3. Oversight on how (and when) to use immigration authority has been inconsistent
  4. The structure of ICE’s supervision of 287(g) programs has not been developed or defined
  5. Consistent data collection, documentation, and reporting requirements have not been defined
  6. Performance meters used to evaluate program progress are virtually non-existent

And most importantly, over half of the 29 state and local law enforcement agencies reviewed and interviewed by GAO for this report had documented complaints and concerns about 287(g) authority being used to apprehend, detain, and deport immigrants who had committed minor violations like speeding or running traffic lights, and/or to apprehend and detain in a manner consistent with racial profiling.

Among the other witnesses at the hearing were Sheriff Chuck Jenkins from Frederick County, MD and Police Chief J. Thomas Manger of Montgomery County, MD.

Sheriff Jenkins testified that they had no problems with the 287(g) program, arguing that it is “a strong and effective tool in safeguarding our national security at our borders.” He also said that he believes “existing fear or distrust of law enforcement is generally cultural based, as most countries where immigrants originate from do have corrupt governments, corrupt and abusive law enforcement, which is all that they have been exposed to in their lives.”

Meanwhile, Police Chief Manger–who is also a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Major Cities Chiefs Association(MCCA)–believes that the 287(g) program undermines trust, confidence, and cooperation between police and immigrant communities. He testified that through his experience, he concurs with what the MCCA has written:

“…without assurances that contact with police would not result in purely civil immigration enforcement action, the hard won trust, communication and cooperation from the immigrant community would disappear. Such a divide between the local police and immigrant groups would result in increased crime against immigrants and the broader community, create a class of silent victims and eliminate the potential for assistance from immigrants in solving crimes or preventing future terroristic attacks.”

Police Chief Manger also noted Latinos are disproportionately targets of crime and in urban areas with large Latino or immigrant populations, programs like 287(g) would be destructive to community safety.

A similar report put out by Justice Strategies, a nonprofit research group, said thatcomprehensive immigration reform, which Congress has failed to pass, should be the goal of the Obama administration… The 287(g) program ‘amounts to a local and state bailout of the failed federal immigration enforcement business.'”

Links to media coverage of the GAO report and yesterday’s hearing:

NY Times- Report Questions Immigration Program

Wall Street Journal- Immigrant Busts Faulted

Associated Press- House Panel Scrutinizes Immigration Program

Gannett Washington Bureau- Federal Immigration Officials Chided for Lax Control Over Local Police