Advocates Issue Statement Condemning Obama Administration’s Expansion of DHS’ Failed 287(g) Program

Civil rights and community groups across the country denounce Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano’s plans to expand the highly criticized 287(g) program to eleven new jurisdictions around the country.  The program, authorized in 1996 and widely implemented under the Bush Administration, relinquishes, with no meaningful oversight, immigration enforcement power to local law enforcement and corrections agencies.

Since its inception the program has drawn sharp criticism from federal officials, law enforcement, advocates and local community groups.  A February 2009 report by Justice Strategies, a nonpartisan research firm, found widespread use of pretextual traffic stops, racially motivated questioning, and unconstitutional searches and seizures by local law enforcement agencies granted 287(g) powers.  Justice Strategies recommended the program be suspended.  "We found evidence that growth of the 287(g) program has been driven more by racial animus than by concerns about public safety.  The expansion of this deeply flawed program cannot be justified before a thorough test of corrective actions shows solid proof that they have been effective," reports Judy Greene, Director of Justice Strategies. A March 2009 Government Accountability Agency (GAO) report, criticized DHS for insufficient oversight of the controversial program.

Also in March, the United States Department of Justice launched an investigation into Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, to determine whether Arpaio is using his 287(g) power to target Latinos and Spanish-speaking people.  In Davidson County, Tennessee, the Sheriff’s Office has used its 287(g) power to apprehend undocumented immigrants driving to work, standing at day labor sites, or while fishing off piers. One pregnant woman---charged with driving without a license---was forced to give birth while shackled to her bed during labor. Preliminary data indicate that in some jurisdictions the majority of individuals arrested under 287(g) are accused of public nuisance or traffic offenses: driving without a seatbelt, driving without a license, broken taillights, and similar offences.  Such a pattern of arrests suggest that local sheriff’s deputies are improperly using their 287(g) powers to rid their counties of immigrants, by making pretextual arrests that are then used to forcefully deport people. “We need only look at the example of Maricopa County to understand the devastating effects the increased 287(g) program will have on our communities,” said Chris Newman, Legal Programs Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.  “The Obama administration must recognize that the 287(g) program is predatory and ripe for corruption and profiling that will harm community stability and safety for everyone.”

The Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Major Chiefs Association have expressed concerns that deputizing local law enforcement officers to enforce civil federal immigration law undermine the trust and cooperation of immigrant communities, overburdens cities’ already reduced resources, and leaves cities vulnerable to civil liability claims.  “When victims and witnesses of crime are afraid to contact police for fear of being jailed or deported, public safety suffers,” said Marielena Hincapie, Executive Director, National Immigration Law Center.

Napolitano’s July 10 announcement that DHS has granted 11 new jurisdictions 287(g) powers stunned advocates who had been expecting a major overhaul of – or end to – this failed program.  “DHS is fully aware that the abusive misuse of the 287(g) program by its current slate of agencies has rendered it not only ineffective, but dangerous to community safety.   It is surprising Napolitano did not simply shut this program down.  Expanding this failed program is not in line with the reform the administration has promised,” said Andrea Black, Coordinator of the Detention Watch Network.

Signatory Organizations:

A Better Way Foundation
All of Us or None
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Media Justice
Detention Watch Network
Families for Freedom
Florida Immigrant Coalition
Grassroots Leadership
Homies Unidos
Immigrant Defense Project
Immigrant Justice Network
Immigration Law Clinic, UC Davis School of Law

Immigrant Legal Resource Center
Judson Memorial Church
Justice Strategies
Legal Services for Prisoners with Children
Main Street Project
Media Action Grassroots Network
National Day Laborer Organizing Network
National Immigration Law Center
National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild
Partnership for Safety and Justice
Project Rethink
Southern Center for Human Rights

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Last modified 

January 19, 2010