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Immigration Experts Say Phase-Out of 287(g) "Task Force" Program Not Enough

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287gThe Obama Administration’s announcement that it would phase out one component of its troubled 287(g) immigration enforcement program has been hailed by some as a breakthrough.  But immigrant advocates and law enforcement experts are warning that this announcement will not resolve the fact that ongoing Department of Homeland Security (DHS) programs continue to sweep up a large number of immigrants with no criminal record, or only minor infractions such as traffic violations, and harm the relationship between immigrants and local police that is essential to fighting crime. 

First of all, the 287(g) program is not being terminated in its entirety. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is only phasing out “task force” collaborations with local police, but not “jail-based” agreements.  The task force component of 287(g) involves local police asking the immigration status people they stop on the street, during a traffic stop, etc., and is very similar to the law enforcement components of anti-immigrant laws passed in Arizona, Alabama and Georgia.  “Jail enforcement” agreements involve certain law enforcement officers acting as immigration agents in the jails to determine the immigration status of those being booked.

While DHS has portrayed the “jail” component of 287(g) as more productive, Adelina Nichols, Executive Director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, has seen rampant abuses in her state. Despite the roll back of 287(g)’s task forces, Adelina stated:

The communities in the State of Georgia continue suffering the devastating effects of abuse and racial profiling of Latinos and immigrants unleashed by the federal 287(g) jail-based program.  For immigrant communities in counties with 287(g), the state of terror will continue, which is why we are calling for the termination of the entire 287(g) program in light of the continued and ongoing abuses.

DHS is presenting Secure Communities (S-Comm) as a more efficient alternative to 287(g), and they’ve argued that it is merely a technical information-sharing program that doesn’t leave room for bias or racial profiling. However, S-Comm has consistently failed to stay true to its mandate of focusing on serious, convicted criminals.  In fact, since its inception, 26% of the individuals identified through S-Comm and deported had no criminal record, and a full 56 percent (nearly 100,000 people) had either committed no crime or had a low level offense such as a traffic violation. In some regions of the country, these percentages are much higher.

Instead of being a race-blind program, Secure Communities has actually been applied selectively by certain law enforcement agents, who view it as an easy way to ascertain the immigration status of anyone they come across.  Citing her research on the Secure Communities program over the last year, Aarti Kohli, Director of Immigration Policy at the Warren Institute at Berkeley Law School, said:

Unfortunately, Secure Communities will not resolve the racial profiling concerns that 287(g) programs raised.  Our research concludes that there appears to be an overrepresentation of Latinos in Secure Communities.  Further, the government’s own data indicates that the majority of people placed in the program are not high-level offenders and almost 40%  have a U.S. citizen family member.

The consequence of these statistics can be easily detected in the immigrant community: a growing fear of having any contact at all with the police.  Immigrants come to understand that contact with the police–even to report a crime—could lead to deportation, and a further deterioration of community policing and trust is the result.  Arturo Venegas Jr., Director of the Law Enforcement EngagemenInitiative and former Sacramento Police Chief, said,

The 287(g) program was never very popular with law enforcement, as evidenced by the fact that so few agencies actually signed on, because as police we understand that it will threaten our community policing efforts. This will continue to be the case as long as the jail-based model continues, and will become an even bigger problem as S-Comm continues to expand around the country while DHS makes no effort at reform.

Connecticut Undersecretary for Criminal Justice Michael Lawlor is only the most recent state leader to express concerns about S-Comm coming to his state. He joins a chorus of governors, state and local law enforcement officials, and immigrant advocates who have been pointing out the fact that this program is not actually focused on dangerous criminals, but is also ensnaring ordinary immigrants who are pulled over for a broken taillight or simply to have their “papers” checked. 

Latrina Kelly, Interim Executive Director of Junta for Progressive Action in New Haven, Connecticut, raised concerns about the potential expansion of S-Comm in her state, saying:

The launch of Secure Communities statewide in Connecticut has put immigrants into the shadows.  Streets are empty within many immigrant communities and the fear manifests in children not going to schools, people not going to work or frequenting businesses.  Secondly, the lack of true recognition of S-Comm’s flaws in other states, and within Connecticut, by state government only serves to define the divisions in our state between communities that are welcoming, and those that seek to target immigrants or, in the least, have no interest in the potential implications of S-Comm on their communities.  It is an uphill battle for our community.

After the public outcry over S-Comm escalated last year, DHS convened a task force to review it.  The task force found major flaws. But six months later, the Department has not taken any action to reform the program, and continues to force more states and localities to participate in it.

Sarahi Uribe, National Campaign Coordinator of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said:

The Obama administration is replicating and compounding the same problems identified in the 287(g) program. The unilateral expansion of S-Comm is equivalent to finding the root causes of a disease and instead of eradicating it, creating a mandatory vaccine to infect the nation. Our priorities and values are seriously misguided when we sacrifice public safety and crime reporting in order to deport families for civil immigration violations. We will continue to fight back against S-Comm until it is shelved like other shameful, unjust deportation programs.

Patty Kupfer, Managing Director of America’s Voice Education Fund, who moderated the call, stated:

DHS has much work to do, With the 287(g) jail component still in place and S-Comm expanding around the country, these programs will continue to sweep up a large number of immigrants with no criminal record, or only minor infractions such as traffic violations, and harm the relationship between immigrants and local police that is essential to fighting crime. For the immigrant who is stopped for a broken taillight and ends up in deportation proceedings, and the community that finds out about it, it won’t matter if it’s through 287(g) or S-Comm.  And for the crime victim afraid to call police, it won’t matter either.  That’s why we say that “Secure Communities” is a misnomer.  As currently designed, it’s making our communities less safe.