Involving Local Police in Federal Immigration Enforcement Is Dangerous Policy

Our failure to create a workable immigration system continues to wreak havoc on many other community policies – the latest example is a new extension of the federal program to enlist local police in federal immigration enforcement duties.

Asking state and local law enforcement to don a second hat as federal immigration officers has dangerous ramifications for public safety. When any part of the community fears the police, it becomes less likely that crimes – from domestic violence to possible terrorist activity – will be reported, or that witnesses will come forward. This undermines officers’ ability to do their most important job and makes the community less safe for everyone.

Unfortunately, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano last week announced an expansion of this federal program – known as 287(g) agreements for that section of the Immigration and Nationalization Act – extending the program to 11 new jurisdictions around the country. As the New York Times put it, the Department of Homeland Security “should be deep-sixing this program, not tweaking or widening it.”

Appleseed has long been involved in investigating this policy, which over the past decade has begun to move into uncharted territory. Involving local officers in federal immigration enforcement broke down a division that had been standard law and practice for many years – with worrisome results. Time and time again, during interviews with police officers conducted in the process of developing an Appleseed legal guide for advocates on this issue – Forcing Our Blues into Gray Areas – we heard comments like, “My number one responsibility is community policing and community safety. It’s hard to accomplish that goal if the community is afraid to speak to the police.” Or “We can drive around in our cars all day, but if no one will talk to us, how can we do our job?” For this reason, this is a policy that has long been opposed by major law enforcement organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association. Dozens of major cities and groups from across the ideological spectrum – ranging from the National League of Cities to the ACLU to Americans for Tax Reform – also oppose these programs.

This isn’t an approach you can experiment with or implement in a limited manner. The minute word gets out in the community that police have any immigration role, you’ve just fundamentally altered law enforcement’s ability to fight crime and protect public safety. Once again, we’re back to square one. The real solution is a workable immigration system that creates a means for hardworking immigrants to sign up for legal status so that local officers can focus on their primary duty: fighting crime.

Forcing Our Blues Into Gray Areas: Local Police and Federal Immigration Enforcement (Appleseed report)

New York Times Editorial “More Immigration Non-Solutions” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/13/opinion/13mon2.html

Department of Homeland Security news release http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/releases/pr_1247246453625.shtm

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