MPI Report Finds That Despite Reform Efforts 287(g) Program Fails to Prioritize Serious Criminals

by Kathryn M. Doan, Esq.

Now operational in 72 jurisdictions around the country, including Frederick County, Maryland and Prince William County, Virginia, the 287(g) program gives local and state law enforcement authorities the right to question individuals about their immigration status and turn them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if there is evidence that the individual has committed an immigration violation.

Over the years, immigrant advocates have repeatedly raised concerns that while the 287(g) program was being promoted as a public safety measure it was in fact indiscriminately targeting immigrants, not just dangerous criminals, leading to incident of racial profiling and undermining immigrants’ trust in the police. In March 2010, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General published a report on the 287(g) program confirming these concerns.  Among the many problems noted in the report was the program’s failure to focus on noncitizens who pose a threat to public safety or are a danger to the community.

ICE responded to the report by saying that since the Office of Inspector General had conducted its field research in the months prior to the publication of the final report, ICE had fundamentally reformed the 287(g) program.  According to a fact sheet currently available on ICE’s website, the reforms were designed to improve the program by “strengthening public safety and ensuring consistency in immigration enforcement across the country by prioritizing the arrest and detention of criminal aliens.”

However, a recent report by the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute (MPI) undermines ICE’s claims that the program has been significantly reformed.  According to “Delegation and Divergence: A Study of 287(g) State and Local Immigration Enforcement” issued in January 2011, half of the immigrants turned over to ICE through the 287(g) program in FY 2010 had committed only minor offenses or traffic violations.  In addition, while some jurisdictions had targeted programs that specifically focused on immigrants with felony convictions others were still following a “universal” model that placed an immigration “hold” (known as a detainer) on any immigrant encountered under the 287(g) program who had an immigration violation regardless of the severity of their criminal offense.

While the issue of whether local 287(g) programs lead to racial profiling was outside the scope of the MPI report, the authors did note that in 287(g) programs where the inquiry into immigration status takes place at the jail and not in the field, the arresting officers are generally working for agencies that are not under a 287(g) agreement and therefore are not under any federal oversight leaving open the possibility of pretexual arrests and racial profiling.

The report recommends that ICE take additional measures to assure that the 287(g) program follow a consistent model across jurisdictions that furthers ICE’s stated goal of promoting public safety by focusing on immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes and who pose a threat to public safety.

Click here to read a copy of the report


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