Hispanic Caucus Calls For Ending Program That Identified 100,000 Illegal Aliens, Many With Criminal Records

Hispanic Caucus Calls for Ending Program That Identified 100,000 Illegal Aliens, Many With Criminal Records

By Penny Starr
The CNS News, October 2, 2009

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has asked the Obama administration to 'immediately terminate' a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that has identified more than 120,000 illegal aliens over the past three years..

'On behalf of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), we write to ask that you immediately terminate all Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) under the 287(g) program and cease to establish such agreements,' reads the letter to President Obama.

'These agreements are the subject of serious concern as local law enforcement agencies have used the new powers to target communities of color, including a disproportionate number of Latinos, for arrest,' says the letter. 'The 287(g) program, which was significantly expanded throughout the Bush Administration, relinquishes the power to enforce federal immigration laws to local law enforcement and corrections agencies. The misuse of the 287(g) program by its current participants has rendered it ineffective and dangerous to community safety.'

The program, the 287 (g) section added to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, created a partnership between the Department of Homeland Securitys ICE and state and local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration laws.

The Sept. 28 letter is signed by caucus leaders Reps. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).

The letter cites a March 2009 Government Accountability Office report that 'found alarming examples of mismanagement and insufficient oversight of this controversial program.'

However, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said 287(g) has undergone a 'sea change' since the 'standardization' of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was announced by Secretary Janet Napolitano in July, and that the changes were designed to make the program more accountable.

'ICE takes the concerns raised about the program by the signatories to this letter very seriously,' Matthew Chandler told CNSNews.com. 'The new, standardized 287(g) agreements that were announced in July strengthen ICE's oversight of the program and make our communities safer by identifying and removing criminal aliens who pose a public safety threat.'

'This new agreement supports local efforts to protect public safety by giving law enforcement the tools to identify and remove dangerous criminal aliens,' Napolitano said in a July 10 statement. 'It also promotes consistency across-the-board to ensure that all of our state and local law enforcement partners are using the same standards in implementing the 287(g) program.'

The new MOA aligns 287(g) local operations with major ICE enforcement priorities, specifically, the identification and removal of criminal aliens, according to DHS.

The DHS said the new MOA also defines the objectives of the 287(g) program, outlines the immigration enforcement authorities granted by the agreement, and provides guidelines for ICEs supervision of local agency officer operations, information reporting and tracking, complaint procedures and implementation measures.

'The 287(g) program is an essential component of DHSs comprehensive immigration enforcement strategy,' ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton said in the same July 10 statement. 'The new agreement strengthens ICEs oversight of the program and allows us to better utilize the resources and capabilities of our law enforcement partners across the nation.'

The letter from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus says state and local law enforcement 'use their expanded and often unchecked powers under the 287(g) program to target immigrants and persons of color.'

'It is our opinion that no amount of reforms, no matter how well-intended, will change this disturbing reality,' the letter states.

CNSNews.com sent inquiries by e-mail and telephone to Reps. Gutierrez and Velazquez to explain how federal immigration law could be better enforced in the United States if the 287(g) is eliminated. The representatives were also asked to comment on the success of the program, which since January 2007 has identified more than 120,000 individuals as 'potentially removable aliens,' most of whom are incarcerated in local jails, according to DHS.

As this story went to press, the congressional representatives had not responded. However, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) commented on the Hispanic Caucuss letter about 287(g), telling CNSNews.com: 'This is just another ploy by amnesty advocates to open our borders and stop enforcing the rule of law. This program has been an effective tool in cracking down on illegal immigration and enforcing our laws. We should make it a nationwide effort instead of shutting it down.'

To date, the Memorandum of Agreement had been signed with 66 state and local law enforcement agencies in 23 states, with more than 1,000 officers trained and certified by ICE, according to DHS.