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The Reviews are in on 287(g): “Hated It!”

March 05, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas

The General Accountability Office (GAO) the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress, released a report Wednesday that is highly critical of the program known as 287(g), a program by which local law enforcement engages in enforcing federal civil immigration law – in other words, the law that has turned some local police into ICE agents.  On the same day, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing to address the worrisome findings of the report.  

For immigration advocates, the notion that the program was misguided and wrongfully implemented was already old news. They have warned the public time and time again about the lack of federal oversight of the program, thus allowing enforcement cowboys – like reality star Sheriff Arpaio — run loose. The Charlotte Observer reports,

[The report] was created to address serious crimes, such as gangs and narcotics smuggling... But some local law enforcement agencies nationwide have used the program – known as 287(g) – to deport immigrants for minor crimes such as speeding. .. 

“We could have told them that a long time ago without having to go through the cost of the report,” said Angeles Ortega-Moore, executive director of the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte.

“The intention was to grab hard criminals, but the unintended consequences were they were really targeting minor traffic offenders.”

Deportation program nets minor offenders, March 5, 2009 

Justice Strategies, a nonprofit research group had an insightful analogy about these efforts to combine civil immigration and criminal enforcement in their latest report on 287(g) agreements:

“Residing in the US without proper documentation is a civil immigration violation, but it is not a crime. Imagine if the IRS empowered local police to check the tax records of every person stopped for a traffic violation to see if their filings have ever violated civil tax laws. If the police started filling our jails with people who might have made a mistake on their tax filings, citizens would be outraged. Yet under 287(g), people are jailed when their civil immigration status is in question."

Local Democracy on ICE: Why State and Local Governments Have No Business in Federal Immigration Law Enforcement, February 2009

So instead of targeting dangerous criminals as originally indented, local law enforcement agencies decided to shift their valuable resources to chase after bystanders, immigrant workers and traffic speeders? 

Add to these concerns the eroding trust of the community who as a result of this dual role of the police— one day fighting crime, another day acting as immigration officers —might be afraid of contacting the police when they are victims or witnesses of a crime.  

Montgomery County, Md., Police Chief J. Thomas Manger, a witness at the hearing, emphasized the idea of community security as reported by The Washington Post,

Police Chief J. Thomas Manger warned members of the House Committee on Homeland Security that the program could severely undermine trust between police and immigrant communities.

"Public safety increases when people have trust and confidence in local police forces," Manger said. "The bottom line is local law enforcement needs to work closely with our immigration authorities, but we cannot do their job for them."

Immigration Program Stirs Clash Of Views, March 5, 2009

We applaud Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) for initiating efforts to assess the efficiency of the program. As I mentioned during an interview with California newspaper La Opinión, a thorough review of the program is urgently needed but this might not be enough… 

"Pensamos que se necesita no sólo una revisión exhaustiva del programa, sino un compromiso por parte de la administración del presidente Obama sobre la dirección de las políticas migratorias en este país, para asegurarnos de que este tipo de programas no operen de manera errónea", dijo Vargas.

El DHS falla en objetivo de sus arrestos, March 5, 2009

(Translation: We need not only a comprehensive review of the program but also commitment by President Obama to provide clarity on his Administration’s immigration policy, so we can avoid these programs that are so often wrongfully implemented.)

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