Immigration Enforcement By Local Police Is Ineffective and Misuses Authority, Report Says
August 18, 2010 By Alison Bowen
NEW YORK — Programs allowing local cops to enforce federal immigration law misused their authority, according to a new report.
The National Council of La Raza, an immigrant advocacy group, published findings this week that criticize 287(g), a program deputizing local police officers.
Asking the government to strictly refocus the program toward catching criminals, the group reports that almost half of those arrested are not the violent criminal immigrants thought to pose the most risk to the public.
La Raza reported that most of the 173,000 “potentially removable aliens” arrested since January 2006 were not violent criminals or terrorists.
Instead, immigrants were detained for broken taillights, lacking documentation or “conspiracy to smuggle oneself.”
The group concludes concludes that 287(g) is ineffective, misusing federal authority while hindering local police’s ability to maintain the trust of the community.
In 2009, John Morton, assistant secretary for ICE, argued in an editorial to The New York Times that 287(g) was a successful program that had been revamped with stricter benchmarks and requiring a “focus solely on criminal aliens.”
But La Raza’s report highlights cases in which immigrants were arrested for minor violations, sometimes with dire consequences.
Juana Villegas was nine months pregnant when she was pulled over in Tennessee. Her water broke in jail, and she was shackled to her hospital bed while in labor with her daughter, who developed jaundice.
In another situation, three children were stranded for eight hours on the side of a North Carolina road after their mother was detained for driving without a license.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluated 287(g), saying it should focus on “strenuous criminal activity.” In March, the Office of Inspector General, part of the Department of Homeland Security, issued 33 recommendations, including improving officer guidance, and added oversight, training and data collection.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a prominent player in this program, where his Arizona office has fielded 2,200 lawsuits.
Arpaio’s officers routinely round up thousands of illegal immigrants, catching them in sweeps and sending them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In 2009, Richard M. Stana, the director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues, who helped form the GAO report, told the House of Representative’s Committee on Homeland Security that if every locality did this, ICE wouldn’t be able to handle the increase of required deportations.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, as of October 2009, 73 agencies were participating in 287(g), including about 1,000 law enforcement officers. More than 81,000 “illegal or criminal aliens” were charged with immigration violations between January 2006 and November 2008.
Image: U.S. federal government, public domain.
About Alison Bowen
Alison is a Missouri native and New York City freelance writer who has wanted to cover Latin America since studying Spanish in Central America. After moving to Brooklyn, her work has appeared in The New York Times, the Daily News, the Manhattan Times and Women’s eNews. She earned a master’s degree in journalism and Latin American and Caribbean studies at New York University. Her thesis focused on immigration policies after September 11, including counterterrorism measures, and their effects on the daily lives of immigrants in New York City.