Obama's Homeland Security Hobbles Local Immigration Enforcement

The Obama operatives at the Department of Homeland Security have pared back one of the most successful immigration-enforcement programs, known as 287(g).

DHS’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has stripped the state and local law enforcement agencies in the popular program of the flexibility to design a customized, collaborative arrangement with immigration authorities.

The changes recently implemented force state and local police into a Washington-dictated, one-size-fits-all model. And these changes fly in the face of Congress’s original intent for the 287(g) program. There was never any requirement that 287(g) cases involve only actions against “serious” criminals or even be limited to criminal aliens.

Program participants have developed three basic models, which vary place by place according to local circumstances. These models involve immigration-enforcement activities in task forces, patrolling and jails. But these success stories now face jeopardy from an administration hostile toward law enforcement.

Specifically, ICE has pared back the use of the immigration-enforcement authorities of state or local police. Going forward, activity will be limited almost exclusively to jails. Instead of using immigration violations in investigations or police patrol models, about the only immigration status checks with ICE’s cooperation will now take place once an alien is behind bars.

The new policy requires police agencies to adopt federal priorities. Now, only criminal aliens arrested for drug offenses, the most violent crimes such as murder or rape, or “serious” property crimes will get ICE’s attention.

While repeatedly entering the United States without permission is a felony, even repeat offenders will have to have been arrested or convicted on other criminal offenses for ICE to take custody, detain, prosecute or deport them.

And rather than ICE’s swiftly moving against these foreign lawbreakers, local and state police will first have to pursue the local or state offenses for which the aliens were arrested. This change subverts the option of moving on an alien’s immigration violations, which are usually easier to prove, than his involvement in more complex crimes on which it may be harder to get a conviction.

The Obama Administration’s strictures on 287(g) could bring back the bad old days, when INS notoriously failed to cooperate with police agencies encountering illegal and criminal aliens.

In 1996, Congress began the 287(g) program as a way to force the Immigration and Naturalization Service to support state and local police efforts where illegal and criminal aliens were involved.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), said at a recent congressional hearing, “The goal was to enable those local law enforcement authorities who wanted to, to enforce the immigration laws in whatever way they thought best. And that might or might not include those who committed serious crimes.”

Hallmark characteristics of 287(g) until now have been local priority and design. Thus, participating agencies in Florida have investigated terrorist cases. Alabama’s state patrol has targeted automobile and license fraud. California sheriffs go after illegal alien gangs. Other local agencies have prioritized alien smuggling, ID fraud and drunk driving.

The 287(g) program has been an effective means of multiplying manpower. A small number of local police officers are effectively deputized as federal immigration officers, but remain at their home agency. Some 1,000 state and local officers from 67 agencies have been trained through the 287(g) program.

The program has proven itself cost-effective. The $40 million spent on this program in fiscal 2008 led to the arrest of more than 45,000 aliens who committed state or local crimes. That compares with ICE’s expenditure of $219 million the same year to deport 34,000 alien fugitives.

The 287(g) program produced arrests in 2008 of one-fifth of the criminal aliens ICE itself identified in jails and prisons.

The Obama Administration apparently isn’t serious about enforcing the immigration laws on the books. Its DHS has hobbled a success story that has truly improved public safety in our communities, saved taxpayers money and signaled to illegal and criminal aliens the greater likelihood of being caught and held accountable.

The 287(g) changes aren’t the kind of change we can believe in. Instead, they promise hope to illegal and criminal foreigners.


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