Recent reports and shockingly heavy-handed tactics in Arizona earlier this month are showing an immigration enforcement regime in a tailspin. Hundreds of armed agents and helicopters descended upon four Arizona communities in the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation since the Obama Administration took office. This followed a trail of recent reports exposing failures and the high costs of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s controversial 287(g) program that has been misused to meet deportation quotas by rounding up undocumented immigrants who have not committed any crimes.
And now Arizona has passed an unprecedented new law that requires all persons in Arizona to carry proof of their legal status in the U.S. and requires police to check the paperwork of persons whom they have â€œreasonable suspicionâ€ to believe are in the U.S. unlawfully. Arizona shows the extreme outcomes in one state, while reports from the Department of Homeland Security and the Washington Post show systemic costs and failure throughout our nationâ€™s immigration enforcement approach.
Iâ€™m wondering if it makes sense to start with the recent law passed in Arizona and then say this comes on the heels of a shocking enforcement action. I think peopleâ€™s minds are on the other issue right now and it might be confusing if they think they are reading about that.
As DHS Secretary and former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano remarked last November, comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level is a prerequisite for effective immigration enforcement. She said, â€œLet me be clear: to do this job as effectively as possible, DHS needs immigration reform.â€ She later reinforced the point, â€œLet me emphasize this: we will never have fully effective law enforcement or national security as long as so many millions remain in the shadows.â€Â Read the full speech transcript…
The current maelstrom continues to bear her out.
Recent reports have raised serious concerns about the high costs and unintended consequences of DHS’s controversial 287(g) program, which authorizes state and local police to serve as federal immigration agents. DHSâ€™s Office of the Inspector General recently published a report concluding that the 287(g) program is poorly managed by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), lacks federal oversight, and creates a worrisome conflict of interest for local agencies that also receive federal funds for holding immigrant detainees. The report notes that while the stated program objective is to address serious crime, such as narcotics smuggling, instead the program is frequently used to process individuals for minor crimes, such as speeding. This follows a January 2009 reportfrom the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that also highlighted a serious mismatch between the programâ€™s stated goals â€“ removing criminal threats to public safety and security â€“ and its outcomes, instead encouraging state and local police officers to detain and deport undocumented immigrants for traffic violations and other minor crimes.
As disclosed in an internal government memo written by James Chaparro, head of ICE detention and removal operations, and leaked to The Washington Post on March 27th, the 287(g) program has been misused to meet secret deportation quotas by instructing ICE regional offices to redirect their attention toward rounding up undocumented immigrants who have not committed any crimes. Using quota numbers as the performance measure creates an incentive to remove non-criminal immigrants because their deportations are faster and simpler than the more complicated criminal procedures. For example, according to a University of North Carolina analysis, 87% of all individuals booked through 287(g) in the state were charged with misdemeanors, while only 13% were charged with felonies. In Gaston County, North Carolina, 95% of those charged and apprehended through the program committed misdemeanors – 60% of them for traffic violations that did not include drunk driving.
The 287(g) program has frequently increased costs for state and local police departments, since ICE does not provide funding for police departments to implement 287(g) programs and other immigration enforcement initiatives. Asking local police to take on this responsibility is a dangerous policy for public safety. It erodes effective community policing practices and fundamentally alters their ability to fight crime by ensuring that whole segments of the community will be afraid to interact with police to report crimes or assist with investigations. Community policing initiatives have been central to declining crime rates over the past two decades.
For all of these reasons, many local communities have opted out of the costly and flawed 287(g) program and are instead focusing on community policing approaches that seek to collaborate with immigrant communities to lower crime at far lower costs than pursuing punitive anti-immigrant enforcement policies encouraged by the 287(g) program. Nebraska communities have wisely resisted any attempt to force local police to increase their involvement in immigration matters. In the meantime, it is time to end the fatally flawed federal 287(g) program and turn to real solutions to our broken immigration system: common-sense and humane reform that creates a means to apply for legal status for hard-working and otherwise law-abiding immigrant Americans, and that allows us to focus our enforcement efforts on true security threats. If we fail, Arizona shows us a potential specter of the future. Who might be next?