Blog & Updates
What’s bad for the country is bad for New Jersey too
March 10, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas
Immigration news from last week focused on the misguided implementation of the 287(g) agreement — a program by which local law enforcement engages in enforcing federal civil immigration law. Independent reports, government reports and a House Homeland Security Committee hearing found that the program lacked adequate federal oversight resulting in enforcement priorities being out of whack. Unfortunately, despite concerns on the efficiency of the 287(g) program raised by advocates, Congress and the Government Accountability Office, some localities still believe that 287(g) is the way to go. Such is the case of Morris County, NJ, where local Mayor Donald Cresitello is pushing to allow local police to become deputized immigration officers even as Morris County authorities struggle to protect the trust of the immigrant community, the North Jersey Star Ledger reports,
Call it catch 287(g).
Morris County authorities are trying to reach out to Latino immigrants who are victims of domestic violence to protect them and prosecute their abusers. But a number of victims fear making complaints because they think they or the abuser on whom they are economically dependent will be deported.
[Prosecutor] Bianchi … pointed out illegal immigrants are key witnesses in crimes involving homicide and a variety of other offenses that are protected by his office.
In turn, advocates highlight the damaging effect in the community when local police perform two different – and at times, conflicting —duties,
Despite the assurances, Diana Mejia, a member of Wind of the Spirit, an immigration rights organization in Morristown, was not convinced 287(g) would not be a factor [in deterring victims to approach authorities].
"There is an environment of being afraid," she said. "People don't want to speak out about the way they feel. Honestly, we need to build again the community trust, and to build the community trust, we need to come back and have a relationship with the police and all the law enforcement -- and I don't know how that is going to happen because it's getting worse."
Sadly enough, we can point to specific examples where local authorities chose to be enforcers of immigration law instead of protectors of victims or witnesses of crime. A story in the Orlando Sentinel describes how Rita Cote was detained by Florida police when she made an emergency call to report that her sister was being violently assaulted by her partner. Instead of pursuing the domestic violence complaint and apprehending the alleged abuser, the police arrested Ms. Cote because she couldn’t provide proof of legal immigration status. As expected, advocates called foul:
"No one should have to remain in the shadows and in danger because they fear that their one call to 911 could lead to their deportation, rather than to their deliverance from violence," said Jeanne Smoot, public-policy director with the Tahirih Justice Center, a group in Falls Church, Va., that helps immigrant women in domestic-violence situations.
— Immigration groups seek release of mother of 3, February 26, 2009
Amidst criticism of the 287(g) agreement, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has called for broad review of the program and is drafting changes to “clarify the roles and responsibilities of local authorities”. In the meantime, localities are still implementing the enforcement program based on their own (misguided) interpretation while a few others are seeking to be part of this club, despite the financial burdens caused by multiple lawsuits and civil complaints.
In Monmouth County, NJ, a statewide coalition of immigration advocacy and civil rights groups is pushing back against the County’s intended enlistment in the 287(g) program. In their online sign-on petition, advocates stress how enrollment in the program is counterproductive and fiscally irresponsible,
Across the country, the 287(g) program has proven to be a costly and counterproductive initiative. Its many problems include the high unanticipated costs for local jurisdictions, deteriorating relations between police and the communities they are entrusted to protect, racial profiling of local residents, and numerous lawsuits over resulting discrimination.
Sheriff Guadagno attempts to justify the program by stating that her concern is “the safety of Monmouth County residents,” yet study after study disproves the myth that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes. In fact, Guadagno’s own 287(g) application to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) indicates that a mere 1\% of the average jail population in Monmouth County jail is foreign born. Yet despite this, and the fact that local enforcement screens for immigration status when someone is charged with an indictable offense, Sheriff Guadagno plans to invest valuable resources on a failed program with a high human and economic cost. Indeed, studies have proven that 287(g) programs have the effect of deterring victims from coming forward and reporting crimes to proper law enforcement officials.
Unless leadership in Washington provides a clear roadmap on how it’s going to deal with our immigration troubles, pressure to shift the responsibility of immigration law enforcement to local governments will continue to rise.