Last Friday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general released a stinging critique of DHS’ 287(g) program, a controversial initiative which allows local police to enforce immigration laws. Immigrant and civil rights activists have long claimed that the program leaves all brown-skinned residents vulnerable to racial profiling and other civil rights abuses, regardless of their immigration status. The inspector general’s assessment largely concurs with observations made by groups on the ground and goes further in pointing out that the program is inefficiently administered and failing to meet its goals:
With no specific target levels for arrest, detention, and removal priority levels, and with performance measures that do not account for all investigative work and criminal prosecutions, ICE cannot be assured that the 287(g) program is meeting its intended purpose, or that resources are being appropriately targeted toward aliens who pose the greatest risk to public safety and the community. […]
…An emphasis on civil rights and civil liberties was not formally included in the 287(g) application, review, and selection process…287(g) officers at several program sites were not knowledgeable about the asylum process, immigration benefits, and victim and witness protections. An appropriate level of knowledge in these areas could minimize processing errors and reduce the risk of wrongful detention and deportation. ICE needs to take measures to increase competencies in these areas.
In early 2009, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) also released a report slamming ICE for failing to provide local police participating in the 287(g) program with clearly defined objectives or a consistent system of supervision. “Contrary to the objective of the program,” the GAO report found that participating local police were removing immigrants for minor violations amidst rampant allegations of discrimination and racial profiling instead of curbing serious crime committed by “removable aliens.” Napolitano responded by announcing new objectives and guidelines aimed at “providing uniform policies” that prioritized the deportation of immigrants who commit serious crimes. The new inspector general report indicates that despite recent improvements, little has changed and “significant challenges in administering the 287(g) program continue to exist.”
Last year, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called on Obama to terminate the 287(g) program, indicating that “no amount of reforms, no matter how well-intentioned,” will address the program’s misuse. Now, even the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) is calling on the President and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to end the program. “Immigration lawyers hear reports everyday that immigrants are afraid to talk to the police and to report crimes,” said Bernie Wolfsdorf, President of AILA. “Nothing is more debilitating to American values than abuses committed by local police who are the very essence of law enforcement and protection of our communities.”
The inspector general’s report came on the wings of a recently leaked DHS memo indicating that U.S. immigration authorities have set controversial new deportation quotas which differ from repeated pledges made by Napolitano to focus first and foremost on undocumented immigrants that pose a danger to public safety. Top ICE officials have denounced the memo and acknowledged that it was “inconsistent” with the views of DHS and the Obama administration. In a blog post, Joan Friedland of the National Immigration Law Center wrote that “Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) chief John Morton asked to be judged on ICE’s record, not on rumors.” However, Friedland points out, “that’s just why I’m concerned.”