By William Fisher
A controversial government program that enlists local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to help enforce the nation’s immigration laws is verging on being out of control and unable to assess whether it is meeting its stated goals.
These are among the findings in a new report released by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) on the program known as 287(g). The program, administered by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), authorizes local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws.
Calling ICE “an agency that has lost its way,” Mary Giovagnoli, Director of the Immigration Policy Center, an immigration advocacy group, said the IG’s report was “a damning critique of the 287(g) program, confirming many of the criticisms levied against the program by community leaders, law enforcement officials, and immigration groups.”
The report “raises serious questions about the wisdom of state and local immigration enforcement partnerships with ICE,” she said, adding:
“There is no evidence that 287(g) makes communities safer or improves our broken immigration system. In the rush to engage state and local law enforcement on federal immigration matters, ICE has created a program that lacks oversight, undermines community relations, and breeds mistrust. As proven time and time again, a deportation-driven strategy exacts a high toll on individuals and communities with little real impact in stopping illegal immigration,” she said.
"The OIG report is further evidence that the Administration has yet to distinguish between deporting large numbers of immigrants and making us safe. In the rush to engage state and local law enforcement on federal immigration matters, ICE has created a program that lacks oversight, undermines community relations, and breeds mistrust. As proven time and time again, a deportation-driven strategy exacts a high toll on individuals and communities with little real impact in stopping illegal immigration."
Giovagnoli, an immigration lawyer who formerly served with ICE and several of its predecessor agencies, told IPS that ICE “needs to create an Ombudsman with the skills and resources to resolve conflicts and adjudicate complaints quickly and fairly.”
The IG found that the 287(g)program is poorly managed and supervised, and ICE has not instituted controls to promote effective program operations; lacks strict guidelines for implementation, which results in different implementation methods in different jurisdictions; lacks an adequate and consistent vetting process for jurisdictions that apply for the program, as well as for officers applying to be deputized under the program; does not gather data necessary to track how the program is being used; lacks a process for reviewing Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) on a regular basis, and for modifying or terminating an MOA as necessary; has not taken action against law enforcement agencies that are clearly violating the terms of the MOA, nor adequately trained deputized officers about immigration law or their authority under the MOA; lacks public outreach efforts, and often provides the public with misleading or inaccurate information” about the program.
The 287(g)program has created tensions within communities where local law enforcement agents have used their delegated authority to conduct large-scale operations in Latino and immigrant communities. Numerous law enforcement organizations and officials have cautioned against participating in 287(g) partnerships because they “foster community distrust and operate with inadequate supervision.”
Brittney Nystrom of the National Immigration Forum (NIF), said the IG’s report “confirms our worst suspicions about this program.”
“While some local law enforcement agencies continue to use this program to intimidate and terrorize immigrant communities, ICE does not have the structures in place to evaluate or restrain the actions of rogue enforcement agencies,” she said.
She noted that the Inspector General is calling attention to the program's inability to safeguard civil rights and civil liberties, to assess the program's effectiveness in targeting dangerous individuals, to properly train officers enrolling in the program, to receive and respond to community input, and to oversee local officers enrolled in the program. “In sum, the Inspector General made 33 recommendations for fundamental reforms necessary to make the program accountable and effective in its mission, “she said, adding, “We believe the program has proven itself to be beyond repair and should be terminated.”
She said that, “Given the well-documented abuses committed by some local enforcement agencies enrolled in this program, the lack of concern with the civil rights record of enrolled agencies is astounding.”
“Also troubling is the program's the lack of ability to track whether it meets ICE's stated goals for the program-to remove non-citizens who pose a threat to public safety or a danger to the community. In fact, the IG found that ICE's performance measures are more concerned with the quantity of arrests rather than adherence to program goals. This raises again the specter of arrest quotas driving ICE's detention and removal operations, which have been the subject of criticism earlier this week,” she said.
The IG report said, “We observed instances in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement and participating law enforcement agencies were not operating in compliance with the terms of the agreements. We also noted several areas in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement had not instituted controls to promote effective program operations and address related risks.”
The IG report comes on the heels of recent revelations that ICE is failing to prioritize genuine threats to the community. The Washington Post recently reported that a senior ICE official sent a memo to field offices outlining an enforcement strategy which emphasized large enforcement quotas rather than focusing on serious criminals. Similarly, the OIG found that 287(g) programs have not prioritized serious criminal immigrants, and performance standards by which local officers are evaluated focus on the number of immigrants encountered, not the seriousness of their crimes.
Section 287(g) refers to a law, written into the 1996 comprehensive immigration reforms, which for the frst time in US history created a formal mechanism for federal executives to extend to local communitybased agencies the arrest and incarceration powers originally reserved for immigration police stationed at the borders.
The IG’s report closely channels a finding by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, The GAO concluded that immigration bureau officials had not closely supervised how their agreements with the local agencies had been carried out, had inconsistently described the program’s goals, and had failed to spell out what data should be tracked, collected and reported.