Democratic lawmakers have urged US President, Joe Biden, to stop using local police to enforce US immigration laws, arguing that it is ‘making the country less safe by dissuading immigrants from coming forward to report serious crimes. A letter was recently sent urging the Biden administration to immediately ‘terminate agreements’ with local police.
The letter, sent on April 22 by Senator Cory Booker to US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, called for the new administration to ‘immediately terminate’ so-called 287(g) agreements, which allow state and local police to ‘operate as federal US immigration agents’.
Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, was joined on the letter by fellow Democrat, Mike Quigley, of Illinois and Washington Republican, Pramila Jayapal, who is chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
It’s understood that should the Biden administration fail to act, the lawmakers are willing to fall back on new legislation – namely the PROTECT Immigration Act – repealing the federal government’s authority to deputize state and local law enforcement.
In a statement, Senator Booker said: “US immigration enforcement should not be delegated to state and local police departments that are not equipped to enforce immigration laws — it is the job of the federal government.”
“These agreements undermine public safety and result in the racial profiling and harassment of members of the immigrant community,” Booker added.
Meanwhile, senior advocacy and policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Naureen Shah, praised efforts to repeal the practice of local police operating as US immigration enforcement.
She said: “There is a growing consensus that such collaboration is harmful. It encourages racial profiling and makes everyone less safe.”
Decades long practice
The practice of local law enforcement operating as US immigration agents, known as the 287(g) program, was first implemented by Congress in 1996. Participating local law enforcement agencies were given powers to interrogate suspected non-citizens who had already been arrested.
According to the American Immigration Council, police departments in 21 states are signed up to the 287(g) program. Meanwhile, departments in at least nine states directly enforce administrative warrants from US Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE).
According to a Business Insider report, arguably the most ‘infamous partner of the federal government 287(g) program was the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department, in Arizona, under Joe Arpaio, which in 2007 had signed an agreement with DHS allowing trained officers to interrogate any alien or person believed to be an alien.’
During a 2011 investigation carried out by the US Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, it was found that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department ‘engaged in the racial profiling of Latinos’.
In the same year, a federal court ordered Arpaio to stop detaining people solely for US immigration offences. Arpaio refused and was later convicted of criminal contempt.
Amid such abuses, former US President Barack Obama terminated some 287(g) agreements and ‘generally limited’ their use, according to a Congressional Research Service report. The clampdown on the program came after not just unlawful abuse, but evidence that the program was being used to target non-citizens arrested for minor offences.
However, Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump expanded the 287(g) program, signing a reported 23 agreements with local law enforcement agencies in Texas alone. Trump also orchestrated several mass US immigration raids across major cities, which resulted in a significant slump in lawful and undocumented immigrants coming forward to report crimes.
Biden has reversed many of Trump’s controversial US immigration policies, resulting in a massive decline in arrests and deportations – not including those removed from the US after crossing the border.
287(g) program remains
Despite this, Biden has not terminated the 287(g) and related programs, such as ‘Secure Communities’, which allows local law enforcement to share the fingerprints of arrested individuals with ICE. In February this year, 60 members of Congress urged Biden to end the programs.
In a statement made by Pramila Jayapal, she said: “While we’ve begun a new presidential administration, we still need to put an end to our country’s long history of targeting, profiling, and tearing apart immigrant communities while criminalizing those who call them home.”
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