April 22, 2009 | WebMemo on Department of Homeland Security
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 immigration laws.
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 Davidson County
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:
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 hearings.
Congress should recognize the success of 287(g) and other ICE ACCESS programs and do the following:
The Valuable Role of States and Localities
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 programs.
Jena Baker 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.
Hearings, Examining 287(g): The Role of
State and Local Law Enforcement in