No Change in Immigration Policy
New America Media, Commentary, Marielena Hincapié Posted: Jul 23, 2009
Traducción al español
Editor’s Note: The Obama administration’s decision to expand the 287(g) program that allows local law enforcement to act as immigration agents is wrong-headed says Marielena Hincapié. Hincapié is the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which is a member organization of Detention Watch Network, a national coalition working to reform the immigration, detention and deportation system. IMMIGRATION MATTERS features the voices of immigration rights organizations.
Imagine that you, a U.S. citizen, were the victim of a crime to which an undocumented person was a witness. As a result of draconian Bush-era agreements dubbed 287(g), this undocumented person would be at a very real risk for deportation if she were to report what she has witnessed to the authorities. The police would then be denied vital information to apprehend your offender, leaving the entire community more vulnerable to repeat offenses. This is no way to prevent and solve crime in our communities, and in no way makes us safe.
Sound like another failed Bush plan that President Obama has swiftly corrected? Not at all: on July 10, the Obama administration announced that it would expand the program, which deputizes local law enforcement officers to enforce immigration laws over their constituents, to include 11 new jurisdictions.
Historically, the enforcement of immigration laws has been reserved for the federal government. Since 2002, first the Immigration and Naturalization Service and then the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – a branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – have created agreements with various local law enforcement agencies to act as immigration officials. These agreements, authorized by section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, have led to widespread abuses of power, including racial profiling and unconstitutional searches and seizures.
ICE claims to have made changes to ensure that the raids on workers and racial profiling will be stopped, but -- given the agency’s abysmal track record -- is expansion of 287(g) a good way to test this theory?
Cosmetic changes in the agreements won’t safeguard communities from vigilante sheriffs who raid Latino neighborhoods and run immigration checks based on skin color. The truth is that there simply isn’t enough federal oversight to ensure that such practices won’t continue. Sheriffs like Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, which currently has a 287(g) agreement, know this. Though he is the subject of several Justice Department and DHS Office of Inspector General inquiries and private civil rights lawsuits, Arpaio has told the press that he doesn’t care what the federal investigators say or find.
Immigrants aren’t the only ones who should worry about 287(g) expansion. Public-safety minded citizens in counties with these agreements have seen precious resources shifted away from crime prevention and investigation toward patrolling Home Depot parking lots to see if all those standing outside have proper immigration papers. In tough economic times, it simply doesn’t make sense to further strain an already under-funded and under-staffed police force with work that should be the province of the federal government.
Not only do these new agreements trample on our civil liberties while hurting local economies, they make for bad public safety practices. Many prominent law enforcement chiefs are among the most vocal opponents of expanding the immigrant-hunting program, pointing out that it lessens their ability to fight and prevent crime. On July 1 of this year, chiefs of 64 major urban areas spoke out against 287(g) and the localization of immigration enforcement measures, which compromise the trust between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.
Moreover, these new memoranda of agreement (MOAs) between local law enforcement and DHS set a dangerous precedent for secrecy. According to the DHS, information “developed or obtained as a result of this MOA … shall not be considered public records.” Simply put, the government does not deem their immigration enforcement tactics a topic worthy of public oversight. This is a worrisome declaration from an administration that had promised the public a more transparent government. The revised MOAs ensure that the public will be shut out from the agreement process and not privy to its outcomes.
Some would argue that these minor, cosmetic changes with the 287(g) program are evidence of the Obama administration’s effort to create the political space for comprehensive immigration reform. Putting the burden of immigration enforcement on overtaxed, under-funded, and untrained local law enforcement is unacceptable. The bottom line is that with or without immigration reform, giving local law enforcement agencies the authority to enforce immigration laws is foolhardy and costly.
Outsourcing immigration responsibilities to local law enforcement only makes communities more dangerous by marginalizing our most vulnerable members of society. The destruction of families, the criminalization of immigrants and people of color, and a growing distrust in a police force that needs community support to keep us safe are the wrong way to go. It’s time for President Obama to stop following in Bush’s failed footsteps, leave behind senseless immigration enforcement policies by suspending programs like 287(g), and lead the country toward achieving broad and humane immigration reform.
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