Headlines, Human Rights, Migration & Refugees, North America

U.S.: Audit Finds Major Problems in Immigration Policing

William Fisher

NEW YORK, Apr 5 2010 (IPS) - A controversial government programme that enlists local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to help enforce U.S. immigration laws is verging on being out of control and unable to assess whether it is meeting its stated goals.

These are among the findings in a new report released by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) on the programme known as 287(g). Administered by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), it authorises local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws.

Calling ICE “an agency that has lost its way”, Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Centre, an immigration advocacy group, said the IG’s report was “a damning critique of the 287(g) programme, confirming many of the criticisms levied against the programme by community leaders, law enforcement officials, and immigration groups.”

“The OIG report is further evidence that the administration has yet to distinguish between deporting large numbers of immigrants and making us safe,” she said. “In the rush to engage state and local law enforcement on federal immigration matters, ICE has created a programme that lacks oversight, undermines community relations, and breeds mistrust.”

Giovagnoli, an immigration lawyer who formerly served with ICE and several of its predecessor agencies, told IPS that ICE “needs to create an ombudsman with the skills and resources to resolve conflicts and adjudicate complaints quickly and fairly.”

The IG found that the 287(g) programme is poorly managed and supervised, and lacks an adequate and consistent vetting process for jurisdictions that apply for the programme, as well as for officers applying to be deputised under the programme.

The report notes that it lacks a process for reviewing memorandums of agreement (MOAs) on a regular basis, and has not taken action against law enforcement agencies that are clearly violating the terms of the MOA.

The 287(g) programme has created tensions within communities where local law enforcement agents have used their delegated authority to conduct large-scale operations in Latino and immigrant communities.

Numerous law enforcement organisations and officials have cautioned against participating in 287(g) partnerships because they “foster community distrust and operate with inadequate supervision”.

Brittney Nystrom of the National Immigration Forum said the IG’s report “confirms our worst suspicions about this programme”.

“We believe the programme has proven itself to be beyond repair and should be terminated,” she said. “Given the well-documented abuses committed by some local enforcement agencies enrolled in this programme, the lack of concern with the civil rights record of enrolled agencies is astounding.”

“Also troubling is the programme’s the lack of ability to track whether it meets ICE’s stated goals for the programme – to remove non-citizens who pose a threat to public safety or a danger to the community,” she added. “In fact, the IG found that ICE’s performance measures are more concerned with the quantity of arrests rather than adherence to programme goals.”

“This raises again the specter of arrest quotas driving ICE’s detention and removal operations, which have been the subject of criticism earlier this week,” she said.

The IG report said, “We observed instances in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement and participating law enforcement agencies were not operating in compliance with the terms of the agreements. We also noted several areas in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement had not instituted controls to promote effective programme operations and address related risks.”

The IG report comes on the heels of recent revelations that ICE is failing to prioritise genuine threats to the community. The Washington Post recently reported that a senior ICE official sent a memo to field offices outlining an enforcement strategy which emphasised large enforcement quotas rather than focusing on serious criminals.

Similarly, the OIG found that 287(g) programmes have not prioritised serious criminal immigrants, and performance standards by which local officers are evaluated focus on the number of immigrants encountered, not the seriousness of their crimes.

Section 287(g) refers to a law, written into the 1996 comprehensive immigration reforms, which for the frst time in U.S. history created a formal mechanism for federal executives to extend to local community­based agencies the arrest and incarceration powers originally reserved for immigration police stationed at the borders.

The IG’s report closely channels a finding by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress. The GAO concluded that immigration bureau officials had not closely supervised how their agreements with the local agencies had been carried out, had inconsistently described the programme’s goals, and had failed to spell out what data should be tracked, collected and reported.

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