The Costs of the 287(g) Program Outweigh the Benefits
The clarion call is getting louder.
Last week, police executives from across the country added their voices to a growing call to limit the immigration enforcement role of local law enforcement agencies. The report, “The Role of Local Police: Striking a Balance Between Immigration Enforcement and Civil Liberties” published by the Police Foundation, acknowledges that the “majority of police chiefs seem to regard the costs of participation in civil immigration enforcement efforts, where there is no criminal nexus, as outweighing the potential benefits.”
The officers’ position, particularly on the 287(g) program and other local and state law enforcement initiatives, is not surprising. Police departments across the nation have worked hard to gain the trust and cooperation of immigrant communities. By taking on the role of an immigration agent, police departments are no longer perceived as protecting members of the immigrant community. Rather, officers are feared for their role in deporting members of the immigrant community. This is not an enviable role. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the police to identify, arrest, and prosecute criminals when victims fail to report crimes and witnesses will not cooperate with the police for fear of deportation.
This fear is real. Just ask Chief William Bratton of the Los Angeles Police Department. Chief Bratton, in an LA Times op-ed, stated:
… every day our effectiveness is diminished because immigrants living and working in our communities are afraid to have any contact with the police. A person reporting a crime should never fear being deported, but such fears are real and palpable for many of our immigrant neighbors.
As Chief Bratton and the police executives know and report -- our communities are all less safe when the trust and relationship between the local law enforcement agency and the immigrant community is broken.
Public safety concerns, along with many of the concerns articulated by the police chiefs about the 287(g) program, resonate with CLINIC and the communities we serve. The 287 (g) program negatively impacts the budget of law enforcement agencies, increases the possibility of error given the complexity of immigration law, increases the possibility of racial profiling and other civil lawsuits, and has a chilling effect on immigrant access to other municipal services.
CLINIC is encouraged by the thoughtful recommendations by the police chiefs in the Police Foundation Report with respect to the 287(g) program. We are also hopeful heartened and thrilled by their call for comprehensive immigration reform.
Local law enforcement leaders and policing organizations should place pressure on the federal government to comprehensively improve border security and reform the immigration system, because the federal government’s failure on both issues has had serious consequences in cities and towns thought the country.
We are reminded that police officers exist to promote safety and protect our communities. We are all less safe if officers are distracted from finding violent and dangerous criminals to focus on arresting someone with a busted tail light who might happen to be without status. This is not the way to fix our broken immigration system and it certainly is not the path that we should be traveling. Instead, as the police executives remind us, we should continue to press our elected officials to support immigration reform and let our local police return to their most pressing assignment: protecting our communities.
Karen Herrling is an attorney in CLINIC’s Advocacy section. She coordinates CLINIC’s State and Local Enforcement Project.