State and local law enforcement across the country have begun to
tackle their jurisdictions' illegal immigration woes. One such
program, Section 287(g), allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) to train state and local police to enforce federal
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), however, claimed in
a March report that the programs were unorganized and a source of
racial profiling. But a report by the Davidson County (TN)
Sheriff's Office provides a very different take, emphasizing that
287(g) is highly valuable.
Congress should continue its support for 287(g) and other state
and local ICE programs by allocating more funding to ICE ACCESS
programs like 287(g) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
resources. It should simultaneously make it easier for state and
local governments to use homeland security grants to pay for
program participation. Finally, it should ensure that program
progress is reported to Congress annually.
A Force Multiplier
ICE and state and local law enforcement have long struggled to
enforce America's immigration laws. Previously, when a state and
local law enforcement officer apprehended an individual who could
not demonstrate legal presence in the U.S., the officer would
simply notify ICE and wait for them to come and get the individual.
In practice, this meant many illegal aliens went free and
immigration laws were not enforced.
In 1996, however, Congress created 287(g) programs as an
amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). ICE now
offers a full menu of immigration-enforcement-related assistance
programs for state and local law enforcement called ICE ACCESS.
These programs allow DHS to enter into Memorandums of Agreement
with state and local law enforcement. In the case of 287(g), this
status allows law enforcement entities to "act in the stead of ICE
agents by processing illegal aliens for removal." Before officers
can take such steps, however, they are required to undergo a
five-week training course, a background check, and mandatory
certifications. There are currently 29 jurisdictions around the
U.S. participating in 287(g) programs.
Mixed Reviews: GAO and the Case of
On March 4, the GAO issued a report that was highly critical of
287(g) programs, including accusations that 287(g) was poorly run,
lacked oversight, and could lead to racial profiling. While the
report used no statistics to confirm that profiling was occurring,
the charges managed to ignite a firestorm of criticism at House
hearings on the issue.
A recent report by the Davidson County Sheriff's office,
however, paints a different picture of 287(g) programs. The
Sheriff's Office has reportedly arrested and processed for removal
over 5,300 illegal aliens in two years (many with current or
previous criminal charges). These efforts have also led to a 31
percent decline in arrests of "foreign-born" individuals and a 46
percent decline in "illegal aliens committing crimes."
The report also addressed the racial profiling issue detailed in
the GAO report. Davidson County emphasized that the individuals
removed through 287(g) did not disproportionately affect a
particular race, as those arrested represented 61 different
countries of origin.
Furthermore, as the percentage of foreign-born individuals
arrested in the county has decreased 31 percent since the program's
inception, there is nothing to support a claim of racial profiling.
In fact, Davidson County emphasized that it had never received
allegations of profiling and had engaged in extensive community
communication efforts to decrease concerns.
Benefits of 287(g)
As evidenced in the Davidson County report, ICE ACCESS programs,
including 287(g), have the following benefits:
- They help fight crime. Using ICE databases, 287(g)
participants can identify serious criminals and arrest and remove
them from the United States. For example, Davidson County was able
to get 90 gang leaders off the streets through its 287(g)
- They are effective in removing illegal immigrants.
There are approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the United
States. These individuals often strain government services, placing
a particularly large burden on state and local governments, who
often end up footing the bill. Programs like 287(g) help restore
rule of law by removing those individuals who break the law and
enter the U.S. illegally.
- They respect federalism. State and local governments
have the right to enforce federal laws or enact and enforce their
own laws. And the Tenth Amendment's concept of federalism leaves
areas unregulated by federal or state law to the people. As long as
state and local governments operate within the parameters of the
Constitution and federal law, their sovereign authority to look
after their citizens is not in question.
The Davidson County report emphasizes why 287(g) programs work
and why they should be continued. Similar success stories have been
highlighted by many jurisdictions around the country. For instance,
the sheriff of Frederick County, Maryland, relayed similar positive
benefits from its 287(g) program in the March congressional
Congress should recognize the success of 287(g) and other ICE
ACCESS programs and do the following:
- Maintain support for ICE ACCESS programs. Congress
should ensure that these programs continue. Doing so recognizes the
constitutional ability of the states to enforce federal immigration
laws, decreasing both crime and illegal immigration, while
protecting the U.S. border.
- Require more communication to Congress. Congress
should require DHS to brief them on ICE ACCESS programs annually.
This will give Congress an opportunity to exercise oversight over
the progress, ask questions, and receive feedback from the
- Allocate more resources to participants. GAO officials
cited a shortage of resources as a reason behind the perceived lack
of organization/oversight of 287(g). Congress should fully fund
these ICE ACCESS programs and expand them. For example, DHS could
allow states and cities to use homeland security grants to pay for
their participation, including overtime costs for state and local
law enforcement agents assisting in immigration enforcement
The Valuable Role of States and
Congress should recognize the valuable role that state and local
law enforcement can and do play in keeping America safe, combating
illegal immigration, and protecting the nation's borders--and
encourage the growth and expansion of 287(g) and other similar
McNeill is Policy Analyst for Homeland Security in the Douglas
and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.