By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor
After a federal program that empowers local authorities to enforce immigration laws was severely criticized in an official report last week, a Homeland Security official told Congress that the agency is working on modifications to the program.
Still, pro-immigrant voices argue the 287g program –named after the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996 that created it– should be shut down altogether.
In an editorial published last Sunday, Los Angeles Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión said,
As we have argued in the past, the (287 g) program should be ended. It is a sham that has only served to destroy families and ruin lives. That said, legislation that mandates efforts between federal immigration and local authorities to detain and deport felons should be fulfilled. But, we need to first close this shameful chapter and start from the beginning.
Last week, the Government Accountability Office released a report that said the program had expanded without proper oversight. Instead of targeting undocumented immigrants suspected of having committed serious crimes, local law enforcement agencies have arrested thousands for minor infractions, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s own description of the program presents it as a weapon against terrorism and threats to the U.S.:
Terrorism and criminal activity are most effectively combated through a multi-agency/multi-authority approach that encompasses federal, state and local resources, skills and expertise. State and local law enforcement play a critical role in protecting our homeland because they are often the first responders on the scene when there is an incident or attack against the United States. During the course of daily duties, they will often encounter foreign-born criminals and immigration violators who pose a threat to national security or public safety.
But some of the 67 local law enforcement agencies that have joined the program have used it to detain people for speeding or carrying an open container of alcohol, the report said.
Since taking office, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has included 287g among several initiatives that are under review. Last week, the House Committee on Homeland Security held a hearing in which several members called for greater oversight of the program, The Houston Chronicle reported.
William Riley, acting director of the Office of State and Local Coordination for ICE, told the lawmakers that the agency is already looking to rewrite its agreements with local law enforcement agencies.
According to The Associated Press, “Riley said a draft of the document that will more clearly explain the purpose” of the controversial program “is circulating within the agency.” The new agreement will specify: who should be arrested, how the arrests should be made, how data is to be collected, and how ICE will supervise the program.
Richard Stana, a GAO director, said that with 67 participating agencies “we ought to know now what we want out of these jurisdictions.”
“We have to identify the bad people and we have to deal with them,” Stana said. “But if we spend a lot of time on people who aren’t bad, there are other programs dealing with that.”
[The Associated Press]
One local agency that has been criticized over its use of the 287g program is the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in Arizona. The office is run by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his publicity stunts and attempts to publicly embarrass detainees. A week ago, several thousand people marched in Phoenix to protest the sheriff’s actions and the 287g program.
Arpaio’s critics charge his office’s immigration enforcement actions focus on Hispanic sections of Phoenix and the rest of the county. The office has trained 160 deputies to enforce immigration laws, according to The New York Times:
Sheriff’s deputies here have arrested thousands of illegal immigrants, many of whom were stopped for traffic violations, in sweeps that have led to lawsuits accusing the department of racial profiling.
After hearing that Homeland Security may move to modify the program to make it clear that agencies like his are supposed to focus on serious criminals, the sheriff said he would probably drop out of the agreement.
“If the (federal) program gets too strict, then I am going to have to seriously reconsider,” Arpaio said. “But I’m still going to enforce state laws, and when we come across illegal immigrants, we are going to take action.”