Op-Ed: 287g Immigration enforcement program should be ended now

December 7, 2012

Ending the 287(g) Program

as seen on print edition of the Naples Daily News

Alexvernon profile pictureBy Alex Vernon

Acting Director, Asylum and Immigrant Rights Clinic, Ave Maria Law School

This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent in churches around the country. As most people prepare for a season of visiting and celebrating with family and friends, more and more families are without someone dear to them, separated not by death, but by deportation. This is a stark reality in communities such as that of Immokalee’s Our Lady of Guadalupe church, where prayers for the deported are offered up fervently in the prayers of the faithful.

Most observers agree that the record numbers of deportations occurring in the United States are due in part to immigration enforcement partnerships between the Federal government and State and Local law enforcement. One such partnership program is the “287(g)” program currently in effect in Collier County. 287(g) delegates immigration enforcement authority to participating law enforcement agencies across the country, and the stated goal of the program is to target high priority criminals. Yet according to a nationwide study of 287(g) during the first ten months of 2010, fully one-half of the individuals caught up in the program are not serious criminals, but are instead arrested for misdemeanors, traffic offenses, and noncriminal immigration violations.

The stories I hear from immigrant advocates in Collier County are consistent with the stories I’ve heard from advocates around the country. More and more people are being picked up for minor offenses, or detained based on questioning with no charges laid at all, only to end up facing detention and deportation in removal proceedings. I have seen this in my own immigration practice, albeit in other jurisdictions

I have encountered crime victims who have had police report them and their families to immigration as the first order of business in investigating a crime. I have encountered people of color who were pulled over by law enforcement agents in paramilitary gear, questioned about their immigration status and handed over to immigration authorities with no charges being laid. I have heard of criminals continuing to victimize communities, because community members are fearful that contact with law enforcement may lead to deportation for themselves, or for ones dear to them. Based on what I have heard from local advocates, there is a danger this is happening in Collier County as well.

This is a concern because in Collier County and in other jurisdictions with 287(g) agreements, advocates are finding that there is a widening gulf between the police and the community they are pledged to protect. Since 287(g) was implemented in Collier County five years ago, they are finding that local immigrants and even their U.S. citizen loved ones are increasingly hesitant to call the police to report crimes or cooperate in criminal investigations. This may undercut the effectiveness of other excellent initiatives to assist immigrant victims of trafficking and crime.

The Department of Homeland Security has temporarily extended 287(g) program, which was set to expire in September 2012 in Collier County, until December 31, 2012. This is the current expiry date for all programs nationwide. In its budget justification for fiscal 2013, The Department of Homeland Security sought $17 million less in funding for the 287(g) program, and said that in light of the expansion of Secure Communities, (A Federally run program) “it will no longer be necessary to maintain the more costly and less effective 287(g) program.”

I stand with the coalitions of concerned community members in appealing to authorities in Collier County and in the federal government to discontinue the controversial 287(g) program now. When an entire segment of our community is afraid of talking to the police, this does not make us any safer. Our community deserves better.

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