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Immigration Issues

Local Law Enforcement of Federal Immigration


Federal immigration law has created several avenues for state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce federal immigration law. While not as publicized as anti-immigrant state legislation like Arizona and Alabama, these programs are subject to the same criticism such as an increase in racial profiling and alienation between immigrants and police, which has the potential to increase the likelihood that immigrants will report crimes.  Two programs, Secure Communities (S.Comm.) and 287(g) programs have been denounced by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as creating a dangerous environment for families and entire communities.

Secure Communities

Secure Communities (S.Comm.) was initiated in 2008 as a partnership between ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and local law enforcement agencies. When individuals are booked by police upon custody at a detention facility they are fingerprinted, even for minor crimes like traffic violations.  Under Secure Communities, those fingerprints are compared with ICE databases. If there is a match, ICE will notify the local jail and make a decision on whether or not immigration officials will pursue the individual by taking custody of them and initiating removal proceedings. 

Immigration officials issue a “detainer” on the individual, which requests the local jail to hold the individual for 48 hours beyond their scheduled release, while ICE makes a determination and takes custody of the individual.  There is confusion about the “detainers,” while some local law enforcement officials believe the detainer request is mandatory, ICE maintains the requests are voluntary. In addition ICE will not reimburse for the cost of detaining the individual, nor should the detention last longer than 48 hours beyond the time of the individuals scheduled release.

Advocates and immigrants have challenged this program as increasing racial profiling by local law enforcement and not meeting its stated goal of prioritizing removal proceedings against unauthorized immigrants who posed a public threat. In 2011, the federal government organized a task force comprised of immigration agencies and community stakeholders to review the program, the criticisms of the program, and whether there was proper oversight of the program. 

The final report issued by the task force was critical of the program, but still several members of the task force resigned in protest of its final recommendations stating the stated reforms did not go far enough. After the report was issued, the administration made some changes to S.Comm. yet it still faces criticism. 

A current issue with S.Comm. is whether the program is optional for state and local authorities.  The Federal Government has sent inconsistent messages about this in the past, leading states and localities to issue statements that they consider the program optional and that local/state law enforcement agencies either will not participate in the program or will participate in a limited capacity. The Los Angeles Times published an article in December 2012 covering the California Attorney General’s decision that the program was optional. 

Immigration Policy Center Fact Sheet on S.Comm.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement website on S.Comm.

ICE FAQ on detainers.  New form that clarifies the length of continued detention.

Fact Sheet on challenging detainers.

287(g) Programs

The 287(g) program is a partnership between ICE and local law enforcement created by 1996 immigration reforms but the first Memorandum of Agreement was not signed until 2002. Under these agreements local law enforcement agencies enter into an agreement that they will enforce federal immigration laws and receive four weeks of training from immigration officials. There are two types of programs: task force and jail models. The task force models permits officers to enforce immigration laws while on the ground performing regular duties and the jail house model permits enforcement of immigration laws once an individual is brought into jail for booking.

The program operates to deputize the local officers to do a myriad of tasks typically performed by immigration officials including: access to ICE databases, ability to issue detainers, make arrests (in some cases) based on violations of immigration laws, and complete some immigration forms. Under the task force model, officers have more latitude and many criticize the programs as lacking in oversight by federal agencies.

Advocates and immigrants argue that the 287(g) programs lead to racial profiling as local law enforcement officers enforce immigration laws. One study by the Department of Justice concluded that the Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff’s Office engaged in a pattern and practice of constitutional violations, including racial profiling of Latinos, after entering a 287(g) agreement.  In June 2012, ICE ended its task force model 287(g) program in Arizona. Then in November 2012, the MOU with Alamance County, NC was canceled for similar reasons when a report found that Latino drivers were more than four times as likely to be pulled over than non-Latinos. The task force model has been especially controversial and the MOUs for this type of program are all set to expire at the end of 2012.       

Immigration Policy Center fact sheet on why 287(g) programs are obsolete, which includes links to studies showing the costs and outcomes of the programs.

October 2012 article on 287(g) programs by Immigration Impact.

All task force model MOUs are set to expire at the end of 2012. It is unclear whether the program will be extended.  The Office of Immigration Issues joined community and faith partners in calling for an end to 287(g) programs in December 2012. 

Migration Policy Institute report on 287(g) programs released in 2011. Testimony of MPI experts before House committee in 2009.

ICE 287(g) website.

Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC) has created a tool kit for communities to learn more about and advocate against local law enforcement agency and ICE partnerships.

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