Federal agency critical of ICE partnership program
Published 1:00 am, Sunday, March 8, 2009
Nearly a year after applying, Danbury is still waiting to hear whether its police department will be accepted as a partner in the program.
That program allows the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to partner with local enforcement groups, such as police departments and county jails, to enforce immigration laws.
Perhaps predictably, proponents and opponents of Danbury's participation in the program were both outspoken this week about the critical comments in federal report.
The enforcement program -- commonly known as 287(g), a section in a 1996 immigration law -- came under fire last week from the federal Government Accountability Office , the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress .
"The 287(g) program lacks several management controls that limit ICE's ability to effectively manage the program," according to a 44-page GAO report released Wednesday.
The report cites the arrest of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants because of the program but says a lack of clear communication by ICE allowed some agencies to stray from the program's goal of catching alien criminals.
Four of 29 agencies reviewed by the GAO arrested immigrants on traffic violations, such as speeding, or on other minor offenses.
Local opponents of Danbury's partnering with ICE praised the federal GAO report, while proponents of the 287(g) program remained supportive of the program.
"Rightfully so," Danbury immigrant community activist Wilson Hernandez said about the criticism in the GAO report.
"It seems to me there's no consistency to the application of 287(g)," Hernandez commented. "Seems like each (local agency) is doing whatever they want."
Danbury resident Elise Marciano , head of United States Citizens for Immigration Law Enforcement and a supporter of 287(g), criticized the GAO report.
"It's a slap in the face to police to say they don't have control over their officers," Marciano said.
Another report released late last month -- this one by a private group called Justice Strategies -- also was critical of the 287(g) program.
That 92-page report -- titled "Local Democracy on ICE" -- cited unexpected costs to enforcement agencies, including the detention of immigrants, and alleged abuse of the program by some agencies, such as the sheriff's office in Maricopa County, Arizona.
Hearings are under way in the U.S. House of Representatives on 287(g), which also is under review by the new director of the Department of Homeland Security , Janet Napolitano . ICE is part of Homeland Security .
"We're honest brokers," Richard Stana , director of the team that put together the report, said in an interview Thursday.
He said the GAO is non-partisan and unbiased in its investigations.
The report, Stana said, points out that the 287(g) program needs more supervision by ICE of the enforcement agencies with whom it partners as well as a more defined vision of the type of immigrants targeted.
"If you're going to have a program like this," Stana said of 287(g), "you should have controls."
Stana also said "more accountability" is needed and better data reported by ICE on the thousands of immigrants arrested under the program.
The next step, Stana said, is for ICE to implement the recommendations.
That's what ICE plans to do.
"We welcome the GAO's review," Department of Homeland Security spokesman Michael Keegan said Thursday.
Keegan said "we concur with the recommendations" and that ICE had already been implementing some of the suggestions, such as modifying the agreements with its partners "for greater control."
In Danbury, Police Chief Al Baker was disappointed ICE brought criticism on the 287(g) program by not keeping "proper oversight."
But he said the program has value to Danbury because of the additional training, increased computer technology and databases that would be made available to police.
Baker also stressed that Danbury's purpose in wanting to partner with ICE hasn't changed.
"It's always been our stated intention to catch criminals," Baker said.
Danbury is one of 42 agencies around the country awaiting a reply from the feds. ICE already is partnering with 67 agencies.
Contact Marietta Homayonpour at firstname.lastname@example.org or
at (203) 731-3336.
Excerpts from the federal Government Accountability Office report on the 287(g) program titled "Better Controls Needed over Program Authorizing State and Local Enforcement of Federal Immigration Laws"
"...while ICE officials have stated that the main objective of the 287(g) program is to enhance the safety and security of communities by addressing serious criminal activity committed by removable aliens, they have not documented this objective in program-related materials consistent with internal control standards.
"As a result, some participating agencies are using their 287(g) authority to process for removal aliens who have committed minor crimes, such as carrying an open container of alcohol.
"ICE has not consistently communicated, through its MOAs (memorandums of agreement) with participating agencies, how and under what circumstances 287(g) authority is to be used.
"ICE's data show that for 25 of the 29 participating agencies we reviewed in fiscal year 2008 that about 43,000 aliens had been arrested under the 287(g) program authority.
"... ICE detained about 34,000 and placed about 14,000 (41 percent) of those detained in removal proceedings, and arranged for about 15,000 (44 percent) to be voluntarily removed.
"The remaining 5,000 (15 percent) arrested aliens detained by ICE were either given a humanitarian release, sent to a federal or state prison to serve a sentence for felony offense, or not taken into ICE custody given the minor natures of the underlying offense and limited availability of detention space.
"State and local law enforcement agencies we interviewed have reported specific benefits of the 287(g) program, including the reduction of crime/making the community safer, identifying/removing repeat offenders, improving the quality of life for the community ...
"On the other hand, more than half of the 29 state and local law enforcement agencies we interviewed reported concerns that some members of their communities expressed about the 287(g) program, including concerns that law enforcement officers in the 287(g) program would be deporting removable aliens because of minor traffic violations (e.g., speeding); fear and apprehension in the Hispanic community about possible deportation; and concerns that officers would be performing increased enforcement of immigration laws at work sites and would engage in racial profiling.
"Removing aliens who have committed violent crimes is of great importance to the safety of the community at large. Through the 287(g) program and its partnerships with state and local agencies, ICE has an opportunity to identify and train additional law enforcement resources that could help it meet this challenge.
"However, the lack of internal controls governing the program limits ICE's ability to take full advantage of this additional resource."