National Immigration Forum

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What’s Going On at ICE?

April 06, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger


This post was written with Forum intern Vanessa Gutierrez

On April 2nd, there was more bad news from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General released a report looking at ICE's 287(g) program, the program in which local law enforcement officers are authorized to conduct immigration law enforcement.  The IG report identified 24 problem areas in the program, making 33 recommendations for improvement. 

In brief, the report is pretty damning, identifying flaws in a program that is now several years old that should have been resolved before the program's launch.  These flaws include (among others), failure to track information to measure how the program comports with stated program goals; a lack of personnel to supervise officers enrolled in the program; lack of consideration for complaints against local law enforcement agencies when considering whether to enter into 287(g) or extend agreements; lack of community input; lack of emphasis on civil rights in training of officers enrolling in the program and the lack of collection of information to identify civil rights violations.

The report notes that ICE's stated objectives for the program, included in their Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) template, is to "remove criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety or a danger to the community."  However, when measuring it's effectiveness, ICE looks at "the number of aliens encountered by 287(g) officers" as well as the number of subsequent removals.  This looks an awfully lot like the quota issue we wrote about last week.

One theme that runs through much of the report is the lack of emphasis on civil rights and lack of consideration for information regarding the potential misconduct of law enforcement officers enrolled in the program.  For example,

"…an emphasis on civil rights and civil liberties was not formally included in the 287(g) application, review, and selection process, or in draft procedures for modifying, extending, or terminating existing MOAs."

ICE may revoke a law enforcement agency's 287(g) agreement if the agency's officers abuse their authority.  However, information concerning potential misconduct of 287(g) officers was not even tracked.

"ICE did not retain information regarding allegations and investigations of 287(g) personnel or non-287(g) personnel exercising federal immigration authorities in violation of MOAs."

In fact, according to the report, the 287(g) agreements "do not require ICE or [law enforcement agencies] to collect information that would assist in addressing allegations of civil rights violations within 287(g) programs."

Finally, the new 287(g) agreement template, adopted in July 2009, eliminated the requirement for steering committees, which had been the only local-level oversight bodies of the 287(g) program.  With the new agreements, there is no structure for community stakeholders to identify concerns about the program and have them resolved.

These were just a few of the issues identified in the IG's report.  You can get the report here.  Although the first 287(g) agreements were entered into eight years ago, there are still so many fundamental problems with the program that advocates, including the Forum, are calling for the program's termination.

The Inspector General's report was released on the heels of three non-governmental reports on the program, two documenting problems in a local program.

The ACLU of Georgia documented the exacerbation of racial profiling that has taken place in Gwinnett County, Georgia, after the implementation of 287(g). The report concludes that because of the immigration enforcement power given to Gwinnett County officers and the way that power is being used, immigrant communities have learned not to trust the police. The report recommends that the program be done away with all together, in order to address the troubling and unconstitutional practices that 287(g) has allowed.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied the impact that 287(g) programs have had in North Carolina communities.  One issue examined in this report is whether 287(g) has helped reduce serious crime.  (As noted above, the program ostensibly prioritizes persons committing serious crimes.)  The report found no evidence that greater rates of immigration have been associated with higher crime rates. In fact, the report notes, violent crime has decreased since 1993, during the time period in which the largest volume of immigrants entered the state.  Most of the immigrants processed through the 287(g) program are charged with minor offenses.  More than 55% of the charges leading to 287(g) incarceration were driving-related and more than 86% were misdemeanors.

The report authors recommend limiting existing 287(g) agreements to processing people convicted of felonies as opposed to misdemeanors or traffic infractions, in order to comply with the stated goals of the program and reaffirm the primary duty of local law enforcement, which is to serve and protect all residents from crime.  Alternatives to 287(g) should be considered, focusing on preventing and fighting crime without alienating communities (and thus jeopardizing public safety).

The Migration Policy Institute also recently released a report regarding the implementation challenges for 287(g) programs. The report compares the pre-2009 287(g) Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Obama Administration’s new standard MOA template and provides an analytical framework for determining whether the 287(g) program generates greater costs than benefits. The report contains a set of research questions that will be used in a follow-up study to determine how the program is working on the ground.

The rash of reports critical of the 287(g) program are the latest in a series of reports and news stories that have highlighted serious problems at Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  The agency has too many programs with too many opportunities for abuse, and it is not in the DNA of the organization to be mindful of civil rights, due process, and plain ordinary decency.  Perhaps it is inevitable: our immigration laws are broken, and so is our immigration enforcement.  Our immigration laws must be fixed.  In the short term, however, Congress needs to step in and ask what's going on at ICE.

Image by Flickr user Daquella manera.

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