Why the 287(g) and Secure Communities Programs Affect Everyone
By Damian Morden-Snipper on 10/03/2012 @ 11:00 AM
As someone who cares deeply about immigration issues, I am thrilled to be FCNL’s Program Assistant on immigration. As I’m getting settled in my position, I’m learning about things like immigration enforcement programs. Some of these programs are deeply troubling. The 287(g) program, in particular, raises a lot of questions in my mind.
How 287(g) Works in Theory
Under the 287(g) program, the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) deputizes state and local law enforcement officers to perform federal immigration enforcement activities, such as identifying, processing, and detaining suspected immigration offenders they encounter during their regular, daily law-enforcement activity. This at least sounds reasonable, right? And ICE argues that 287(g) is a crucial and effective tool for catching serious criminals who are not citizens.
How 287(g) Works in Practice
Of course, people who are not citizens are not inherently criminals. “Illegal” immigration is a violation of civil law – like jaywalking – and not a criminal offense (let alone an offense that is cause for incarceration). ICE prioritizes the use of 287(g) authority for serious criminal activity (violent crimes, drug dealing, human trafficking, etc.). But a 2009 report issued by the Government Accountability Office found that ICE has never officially documented this objective – it has merely stated this as a goal. This means that state and local officers frequently detain and deport people for minor offenses and traffic violations.
And although ICE provides some training to participating officers to prevent racial profiling, the experiences of Latino citizens and non-citizens seem to indicate that it happens anyway, as reflected in an ACLU report from North Carolina.
Support for the 287(g) program is decreasing. In recent years, fewer jurisdictions have been signing up with ICE to participate, and none have signed up since August 2010. This may be due in part to the requirement that the state and local governments bear the cost of what is essentially a federal activity, and in part due to negative reactions to the program from the Obama Administration and immigration reform advocates. At the same time, another program has shifted into the limelight: Secure Communities.
The Secure Communities program allows fingerprints from people booked in federal, state, and local jails to be sent automatically to an ICE database before any trial takes place. Should the person show up in the database as deportable, ICE can request that the booking agency detain them, so they can be transferred to ICE for deportation.
As with 287(g), ICE argues that Secure Communities is an important tool for law enforcement because it helps ICE identify and deport immigrants who are criminals. But the ICE database is full of errors that lead to the deportation of legal immigrants and visitors and U.S. citizens.
In addition, many of the people detained and deported were people who posed no danger to public safety, and were booked for such minor offenses as driving a car with a broken tail light. This has led to record-breaking numbers of detentions and deportations, despite the significantly lower crime rate among immigrants than among the general population. Most importantly, these detention requests occur even if the person has never been convicted of a crime!
More Than Just a Policy Debate
My interest in immigration was sparked by a panel discussion I attended while I was a student at Guilford College. One of the panelists was a social worker in neighboring Alamance County, which participates in the 287(g) program. The stories she told about the effects of the program were heart-wrenching: the families torn apart by detention or deportation, the unrelenting stress and anxiety about being stopped by the police, and the degrading treatment people experienced at the hands of those tasked with protecting the public.
She reminded me that the consequences of these programs are very real. I can’t imagine having to endure the normal stresses of everyday life with the additional burden of fearing detention or deportation, or detention and deportation of a family member. I am privileged with features and a skin color that shield me from the experience of being racially profiled as an immigrant. Yet for many people, that burden is their daily reality.
The consequences of 287(g) and Secure Communities extend beyond Latino immigrants and those who look like Latino immigrants, however. These programs affect everybody because crime affects everybody. Police departments rely on the help of community members – including people who are or look like Latino immigrants – to prevent crime and to keep neighborhoods safe. My hometown, Takoma Park, Maryland, passed a resolution in 2007 forbidding its police force and municipal employees from enforcing federal immigration laws, recognizing the importance of making all its residents feel safe. Since then, there have been a number of incidents in which immigrants have provided tips to the police that have resulted in arrests of people who presented an actual danger to the community.
FCNL and many other organizations seek comprehensive immigration reform, including an end to programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities. I am happy to participate in that effort to create a country that safeguards civil and human rights, and treats people with justice and equity – regardless of immigration status.