Soon after taking office, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano promised to reevaluate several criticized immigration enforcement initiatives. One was the 287(g) program that deputizes local police to enforce federal immigration laws. Now, an advisory panel Napolitano created is recommending that the program be scaled back, and that agents authorized under 287 (g) be precluded from pursuing immigrants who are not the target of a criminal investigation.
The Southwest Border Task Force presented its first report in a conference call with reporters this week. Most media outlets focused on the recommendation that the U.S. hire more customs inspectors for its southern border. But McAllen, Texas newspaper The Monitor reported that the group said the 287(g) program “should be limited to identifying illegal immigrants in state prisons and county jails and exclude any efforts to track them down outside of criminal investigations.”
The task force made a total of 19 recommendations to the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which will forward them to Napolitano.
The group’s vice chairman, Hidalgo County, Texas Sheriff Lupe Treviño, told The Monitor that the program, which has been criticized for encouraging racial profiling and civil rights abuses, distracts police and sheriff’s departments from their basic job of local law enforcement. Treviño also said 287 (g) may generate problems between police and immigrant communities.
“We do not want a repeat of what has happened in Maricopa County,” Treviño told the newspaper, referring to the county that encompasses Phoenix, Ariz., where Sheriff Joe Arpaio is under federal investigation for alleged abuses.
The task force’s recommendations run counter to the Obama administration’s policies since taking office. Rather than scaling the program back, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency in charge, recently announced a new batch of town and county police forces whose officers will be trained in immigration enforcement.
ICE’s chief, John Morton, recently defended the program and refused to condemn Sheriff Arpaio, indicating 287(g) will continue.
“We don’t force this on anybody, it’s voluntary,” Morton said a month ago. “Also, people have to understand this is a statutory program. We didn’t create it. It’s in the law.”