The Southern Poverty Law Center applauds U.S. Rep. Jared Polis’ appropriations amendment, which would defund the failing 287(g) immigration program. It would bring an end to one of the most criticized experiments in excessive law enforcement – an experiment that has resulted in immigrants being targeted for racial profiling and abuse by local law enforcement.
The 287(g) program, started in the early 2000s, allows local law enforcement agencies to enter into agreements with the federal government to help enforce federal immigration laws. The program was intended to capture criminals who threaten communities or national security. But the program has been consistently criticized for enabling racial profiling and destroying the trust and cooperation between immigrant communities and local police, which is the very foundation of the “community policing” model promoted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
The 287(g) program has been criticized repeatedly by the Department of Homeland Security’s own inspector general as being unfocused, undisciplined and failing in its purpose of targeting individuals who have been involved in serious and violent crimes. The vast majority of people removed under the 287(g) program are charged with minor traffic offenses. They often are not even convicted before being transferred into the immigration system. Because of these problems plaguing the program, the DHS has wisely ended several 287(g) agreements over the last three years, but the program remains active in numerous jurisdictions across the country.
Through our work in the Southeast, we have long seen the devastating impact 287(g) programs have on immigrant communities. The misguided program empowers discriminatory police practices. Since federal authorities often refuse to inquire into how or why the person was arrested, local officers are emboldened to target and abuse immigrants.
We have repeatedly seen police officers beating undocumented immigrants, profiling them and subjecting them to unfair treatment. Yet individuals are denied an opportunity to contest these police practices because they are shoved into the federal immigration system before their state charge is even adjudicated.
The harm of the 287(g) program is not limited to those abused by police. The erosion of trust between immigrant communities and the police has resulted in immigrants not reporting crimes to police for fear that they will be targeted by local police who are trying to enforce federal immigration laws rather than ensure community safety. Through clients we have represented and individuals we have interviewed, we have seen a systemic and palpable fear of police by immigrants in 287(g) communities throughout the Southeast. The result is that crimes go unreported, and everyone is less safe.
The SPLC calls for quick adoption of the amendment and bipartisan support for the end of the misguided and often abused 287(g) program.