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Department of Homeland Security Expands Controversial 287(g) Program Empowering Local Police to Enforce Immigration Laws

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The Department of Homeland Security said Friday it plans to enter into new agreements with sixty-seven state and local law enforcement agencies. These agreements expand the existing 287(g) program, which delegates some federal immigration enforcement authority to certain state and local agencies. The 287(g) program has come under intense criticism in recent months, with over 500 organizations, including the ACLU and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, calling on the government to end the program. Many of the agencies involved have been accused of racial profiling, and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Phoenix, Arizona is being investigated by the Justice Department. We host a debate between the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Center for Immigration Studies. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryJul 29, 2009Obama Admin Expands Law Enforcement Program 287(g), Criticized for Targeting Immigrants and Increasing Racial Profiling
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The immigration debate is heating up on Capitol Hill, and the Department of Homeland Security said Friday it plans to enter into new agreements with sixty-seven state and local law enforcement agencies. These agreements expand the existing 287(g) program, which delegates some federal immigration enforcement authority to certain state and local agencies. The announcement comes shortly after DHS released a report on immigrant detention noting the vast majority of those detained under the 287(g) agreements were never charged with a criminal offense.

The 287(g) program has come under intense criticism in recent months from over 500 organizations, including the ACLU, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, calling on the government to end the program. Many of the agencies involved have been accused of racial profiling, and the Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio in Phoenix, Arizona, is being investigated by the Justice Department.

On Friday the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, said it would go forward with a new jails agreement with Sheriff Arpaio but remove his field authority to enforce federal immigration laws on the street. Well, that didn’t stop the Sheriff, and he conducted his twelfth so-called immigration sweep Friday, arresting some sixty people. The Sheriff defended his stance on Fox’s Glenn Beck Show earlier last week.

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: You know what? They can take away anything they want. I’m still the elected sheriff. I’m still going to enforce the state laws. And I’m going to enforce a federal law, as there is a law, which they probably don’t know about, that locals — you know, local law enforcement can enforce. So, nothing changes. I was willing to sign it. I did sign it. They thought I would never sign it. And when I signed it, they sent their top guys down and took away the part of law enforcement on the streets. I did it to be a good partner. They trained a hundred of my deputies. And I really don’t need the federal government. In fact, it’s going to be great not to be under their umbrella, because then I don’t have to worry about their bureaucratic policies and supervision. So I’m going to do the same thing. Nothing has changed.

AMY GOODMAN: In addition to the agreement with Sheriff Arpaio, ICE has signed fifty-four other new 287(g) agreements. Twelve agreements await approval by the localities involved. Another six are in negotiations. Six local jurisdictions opted out of the program altogether.

Well, we now host a debate on these agreements. I’m joined in DC by Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. They’ve just come out with a report this week arguing for the program’s effectiveness. It’s called “The 287(g) Program: Protecting Home Towns and Homeland.” And we’re joined from Los Angeles by Chris Newman, the legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, one of the groups that’s been at the forefront of the countrywide efforts to oppose the 287(g) program.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with Mark Krikorian. Why do you think 287(g) should remain?

MARK KRIKORIAN: Well, it’s an extraordinarily important program in helping enforce the immigration laws. It leverages the relatively small number of federal officers by enabling the 700,000 local law enforcement officers all across the country who, in the normal course of their business, encounter significant numbers of illegal immigrants.

And the way the program has worked has been very successful. Something like one out of five of all the criminal aliens — in other words, illegal aliens who’ve committed additional violent or drug crimes — one out of five that the immigration service has deported have come to light through this 287(g) program. It’s also cost-effective, and it enables local cops to do their local jobs, their local law enforcement, more effectively because it gives them this additional tool to essentially partner with the feds so that the locals and the feds are both able to do their jobs more effectively.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Newman, what’s your problem with 287(g)?

CHRIS NEWMAN: Well, the 287(g) program is a wildly ineffective and dangerous experiment that was undertaken by the Bush administration at the end of its term, and it was responding to anti-immigrant hysteria, in no small part generated by groups like Mark’s. And it essentially devolved immigration enforcement authority to a number — actually a handful of local sheriffs, like Joe Arpaio, mostly located in the Deep South of the United States. And there are a number of problems with the program.

Initially, it moves us further away from a national immigration policy that we need, and everyone agrees, I think, that — at this point, I’m sure Mark would agree, as well —- that we need federal immigration reform to come from Washington, DC.

You know, the second thing is that it endangers local communities. Police are entrusted with making their communities safe, and to essentially devolve immigration enforcement authority to them not only diverts scarce resources away from other law enforcement, you know, goals, but it also makes victims of crime less willing to come forward and report and cooperate with the police, and it undermines, you know, twenty years of community policing gains made throughout the country.

And the final problem with the program, again as demonstrated by people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio and others like him in the South, is that the program has really resulted in massive racial profiling and a trampling of the civil rights of not just immigrants, but communities of color in their jurisdictions.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this issue of racial profiling, Mark Krikorian?

MARK KRIKORIAN: Well, this is really a red herring. I mean, look, nationwide, 80 percent of illegal immigrants are Latin American, and in a place like Phoenix, which is where this Sheriff Arpaio is from, it’s more like 90 or 95 percent. The fact is that when illegal immigrants are arrested, almost all of them are going to be Hispanic. It’s just the way the numbers are. It’s not even a question of racial profiling. This is a red herring that opponents of the program are using to try to discredit it.

And really, the bottom line is, they don’t want the immigration law to be enforced, because they see an amnesty, a legalization program supposedly on the horizon, and nobody wants to be the last illegal alien deported before an amnesty. That’s kind of what’s driving this whole concern.

And I have two problems with that. First of all, the law is the law, and if you want it changed, you work through the normal democratic process. And that just hasn’t happened yet. And secondly, there isn’t going to be any amnesty this year or next year or probably any time in President Obama’s at least first term. And so, the idea that we’re on the cusp of changing the rules and let’s hold off enforcement because that’s coming right around the corner is simply false. There is not going to be any large-scale legalization program anytime soon.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play another clip of the Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio talking to Fox News’ Glenn Beck last week.

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: If local law enforcement comes across some people that have a erratic or scared or whatever, you know -—

    GLENN BECK: Demeanor?

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: They’re worried. And if they have their speech, what they look like, if they just look like they came from another country, we can take care of that situation. But I don’t need that anyway, Glenn.

    GLENN BECK: Wait, wait, wait. Are you telling me — hang on, hang on, hang on.

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: I don’t — I can still do the job.

    GLENN BECK: When was that — when was that law written? Because all I hear about is that sounds like profiling. And the government is saying —-


    GLENN BECK: — you can’t profile anybody.

    SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO: Well, that law in 1996, part of the — the comprehensive law that was passed, it’s in there. It’s in there.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Newman of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, your response?

CHRIS NEWMAN: Yeah, you know what? I think Mark’s argument that this is a red herring issue, I mean, is frankly laughable. Even Glenn Beck was incredulous when Joe Arpaio admitted on national television that he uses racial profiling. And to say that it’s a red herring, you know, I would ask Mark to talk to people like Julio and Julian Mora, a citizen and lawful permanent resident, respectively, in Maricopa County who were arrested, detained and humiliated by Sheriff Joe and his posse as part of one of these immigration sweeps. You know, there has been demonstrable racial profiling.

And, look, the fact that only fifty-five jurisdictions have opted into this program, meaning that hundreds and even thousands of law enforcement partners have said, you know, “No, thanks” — again, let’s look at the list of sheriff’s offices that have signed up. So you have people like Joe Arpaio. You have jurisdictions like Cobb County in Georgia, where there have been, again, reports of severe racial profiling. And the Los Angeles Times last week did a feature on some of the programs in North Carolina that came really ominously close to describing a situation that sounded a lot like Jim Crow, where people are being pulled over for listening to music too loud and people are getting pulled over for broken tail lights. And, you know, so for Mark to say that there is no racial profiling is — again, it’s belied by the facts. And what it shows is, again, that Mark is willing to allow his sort of anti-immigrant hysteria to overwhelm the goals of local police of really keeping their communities safe.

MARK KRIKORIAN: Let me rein in my hysteria for a minute and make a point in response to —-

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Krikorian.

MARK KRIKORIAN: —- to the claim that the relatively small number of law enforcement agencies participating is somehow evidence that law enforcement doesn’t want this. The fact is that half of all the illegal immigrants reported by local law enforcement, even today, with the relatively small program, only half of them end up actually being taken into custody by the immigration authorities, because they lack the detention space to hold them. In other words, the size of the program, the number of sheriff and police departments participating, is small precisely because the immigration service can’t accommodate all of the people, the dozens, really more like hundreds, of agencies that would like to participate that aren’t able to because of the bottlenecks in the system. That’s evidence that we’re not spending enough money on, for instance, detention space. It’s not evidence that the agencies aren’t interested in using this additional tool to help them do their jobs. They’re not saying, “Boy, we want to stop going after criminals. We’re instead just going to do immigration enforcement.” They are using this as a tool to facilitate their efforts, their very successful efforts, at improving public safety in their own communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Krikorian, are you —-

CHRIS NEWMAN: Yeah, I mean, that -—

AMY GOODMAN: — critical of Joe Arpaio — just let me get this response — after ICE said it would go forward with a new jails agreement but remove Arpaio’s authority to enforce federal immigration laws on the streets, and then he goes ahead and holds this immigration sweep, arresting sixty people Friday?

MARK KRIKORIAN: Well, there’s a couple issues here. First of all, this change in the way these agreements work, where they don’t use it in the field anymore, that’s across the board. It’s not just for Arpaio. That’s the new format that this administration has come up with, number one.

Number two, I have no idea what Arpaio is talking about as far as what people look like and all of that. Maybe there’s something there. I don’t know. But his claim that state law gives him a tool — that he can enforce state law is, in fact, correct, because in Arizona the anti-smuggling statute applies to illegal immigrants, as well as to the smugglers, as long as they knowingly were smuggled. In other words, they weren’t kidnapped. That kind of thing does happen, but most of them are actually paying smugglers to be smuggled in, and that means they’re part of the criminal offense of smuggling. It’s a state law, and he can in fact enforce it. So he’s on solid ground, legally, as far as the state law goes.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Newman, your response to this and earlier what Mark Krikorian said?

CHRIS NEWMAN: Well, I mean, I think the first thing to say is that the idea that resources is the reason why only fifty-five jurisdictions opted in is pure fantasy. I mean, you know, the Police Foundation issued a report, the major police chiefs. Police monolithically across the country expose — or oppose the expansion of this program. I think Mark and his group is in, you know, an increasingly shrinking minority of people like Joe Arpaio who think these programs are effective. And I mean, it’s just — again, you know, there is proof that these programs are used as a means of having pretext for stops of communities of color in the Deep South. Again, it’s just been demonstrated.

And I think the final thing to say is, you know, to hear Mark actually boasting of this outlier bizarre smuggling law that Joe Arpaio is using again illustrates the danger of devolving a federal immigration responsibility to states. We don’t want to live in a country where every different county has a different immigration policy. You know, we want to live in a country that has a renewed national policy on immigration, one that preserves the American tradition as a nation of immigrants.

AMY GOODMAN: What does 287(g) mean for victims, for example, of domestic violence and other crimes, afraid to go to the authorities, Chris?

CHRIS NEWMAN: You know, again, police chiefs who have looked at this program and examined it are afraid that victims of crime are going to be afraid of coming forward and cooperating with police. For the last twenty years, a lot of jurisdictions throughout the country have reduced crime by relying on community policing initiatives that enlist the community to partner and come forward and report crimes. The fear of communities where these 287(g) agreements have been implemented is that victims get pushed further underground, and the only people who actually benefit are criminals themselves, and so that we see, for example, in Maricopa County, the Goldwater Institute issuing — I should say, a conservative, a very conservative organization issued a report noting that crime had gone up tremendously since Joe Arpaio had started his crusade against immigrants.

MARK KRIKORIAN: Well, let me jump in here. First of all, Goldwater Institute is a libertarian think tank that articulates the interests of business — in this case, cheap labor employers — that ironically the left is in bed with and is shilling for.

Secondly, we’ve actually looked extensively into this issue of have domestic violence reports declined in communities where they have 287(g), and it just isn’t true. Police chiefs are politicians. They’re suits. They are serving and trying to address political interests. The actual police officers who deal —- use 287(g) as one of their tools in preserving public safety are, across the board, in favor of it. They’re not interested in using this as a way of diverting their attention or time from public safety. They’re using it as one of the tools to improve public safety. And frankly, immigration is such a widespread phenomenon nowadays, you can’t, with a straight face, say that you are working to improve public safety in your community, unless you are using immigration law as one of the tools to help you do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Final comment, Chris Newman?

CHRIS NEWMAN: Well, I mean, the first thing, of course, is that police chiefs are public servants. And in fact the politicians, sheriffs, people like Joe Arpaio, have used 287(g) to demagogue the issue. But, you know, I would say that Mark’s assertions are not credible. You know, I mean, to just blanketly assert that police are in favor of it is ridiculous. This is coming from, you know, the same organization that authored a report favoring an attrition strategy, one that seeks to reduce immigration in the United States by making life miserable for immigrants so that they, you know, quote-unquote, “self-deport.” That’s the goal -—

MARK KRIKORIAN: Illegal aliens, not immigrants. Illegal aliens.

CHRIS NEWMAN: Well, that you don’t distinguish, Mark, between either. And again, the result is, is that people like Joe Arpaio, by using the cover that you provide, you know, with assertions like the ones that you just made, they’re used, again, as a pretext to target entire communities of color within their area.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank Chris Newman, legal director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, speaking to us from Los Angeles, and Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington, DC-based Center for Immigration Studies.

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