WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is starting to shut down a program that deputized local police officers to act as immigration agents.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have trained local officers around the country to act as their agencies’ immigration officers. Working either in jails or in the field, the officers can check the immigration status of suspects and place immigration holds on them.
The program, known as 287(g), reached its peak underPresident George W. Bush, when 60 local agencies signed contracts with ICE to implement it. But that trend slowed significantly under President Obama— only eight agencies have signed up since he took office, and none has done so since August 2010.
Now, in their proposed budget for the upcoming year,Department of Homeland Security officials say they will not sign new contracts for 287(g) officers working in the field and will terminate the “least productive” of those agreements — saving an estimated $17 million. All the contracts between ICE and local police agencies run for three years, so that portion of the program could be finished by November when the last contract for field officers expires.
In its budget request, DHS said officials instead will focus on expanding Secure Communities, a program that checks the fingerprints of all people booked into local jails against federal immigration databases. The followup work in those cases is done by ICE agents, not local police.
“The Secure Communities screening process is more consistent, efficient and cost-effective in identifying and removing criminal and other priority aliens,” the department explained in its budget request.
The program had been criticized by Homeland Security inspector general reports, which found that local officers were not being properly trained and there was not enough oversight to ensure that local agencies weren’t using the program to engage in racial profiling.
A study last year by the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, found that immigrants developed “fear and mistrust of authorities” when they realized that local police could act as immigration agents.
The main complaint Friday from groups that oppose 287(g) was that the program isn’t being terminated immediately, and that its replacement — Secure Communities — is not much better.
“The 287(g) program has been repeatedly called into question by advocates as well as the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, and should be terminated rather than sustained with taxpayer money,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of theNational Immigration Forum. “The Secure Communities program is surrounded by grave concerns about the impact to public safety, community policing and civil rights abuses.”