Activists: Both 287g and Secure Communities must go
A move by the Obama administration to phase out some federal agreements that give local police authority to take part in immigration enforcement doesn’t go far enough, a diverse group of advocates and law enforcement experts said in a conference call Tuesday.
The administration indicated in this year’s budget that it would put an end to portions of the 287g program in favor of implementing Secure Communities nationwide, but the group says doing so will do little to address the problems that arise when local law enforcement officers act as immigration agents.
The programs, summarized the call’s moderator, Patty Kupfer of America’s Voice, deteriorate community policing and trust. They translate into a growing fear of police in the immigrant community and tell immigrants that contact with police, even sometimes to report a crime, could lead to deportation, she said.
Under 287g, which is a voluntary program currently functioning in 82 jurisdictions nationwide, officers who are trained by federal immigration officials are allowed to question people’s immigration status during their day-to-day patrolling. Those officers can also access certain federal immigration databases and conduct interviews with inmates who are suspected of being in the country illegally.
Secure Communities eliminates some of that authority, but the mandatory program requires that officers at local jails run the fingerprints of anyone who is booked against federal immigration databases.
Both programs have led, in part, to a record number of deportations since Obama took office. However, the administration is looking to do away with the portion of 287g that allows officers to act as immigration agents on the street. Though the groups welcomed the change, they were critical of the administration’s intention to expand Secure Communities to all jurisdictions by 2013 and are asking the government to pull the program.
Adelina Nichols, the executive director of a Geogia-based Latino and civil rights advocacy group that has been at the forefront at fighting the implementation of 287g and Secure Communities in several counties in the state, said Secure Communities has not met its intended goal of targeting violent criminals and instead has led to racial profiling.
“We have been witnesses of entire families being detained,” Nichols said. “With the implementation of the 287g through these years, we have seen how these have increased a climate where local enforcement feel entitled to ask you your immigration status, or they just see you driving around and they stop you just because you are Latino.”
Latrina Kelly, the interim executive director of another group in Connecticut, agreed that the programs lead to racial profiling, pointing to the example of four officers who were arrested in the state last month for allegedly discriminating against Latinos. Kelly also suggested that in Connecticut, where Secure Communities was recently implemented statewide, the program has spurred conflict among leaders in different jurisdictions.
“The major battle that we’re experiencing is the opposing opinions within law enforcement about [Secure Communities’] flaws,” she said. Some police chiefs, she said, argue that the program would give additional ammunition to officers in towns where racial profiling already disproportionately affects Latinos, while others say the program could meet its intended purpose.
The administration has argued that because everyone’s biometric data is checked against federal databases through Secure Communities, the program actually decreases the chances of racial profiling. But Aarti Kohli, a researcher of immigration policy at U.C. Berkeley’s Warren Institute who recently co-authored a report about the program, explained that in the administration’s reasoning doesn’t pan out in practice.
“What [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is failing to take into account is how people end up in jail,” Kohli said. “Under Secure Communities, if police are interested in going after undocumented immigrants, and they know that if they arrest an individual and take them to jail, there’s going to be an immigration check… there’s an incentive to engage in pretentious arrests.”
Kohli pointed to anecdotal evidence presented by others on the call, as well as the findings of her study, which showed that Latinos — and particularly Latino men — were overrepresented in a nationwide sample of people who were flagged down by the program.
Last summer, the administration put together a task force to address concerns about Secure Communities. The task force concluded that the program was flawed and should be put on hold until it was fixed, but the administration has yet to respond to the task force’s recommendations, according to speakers on the call.
Arturo Venegas, Jr., a director of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative who resigned from the task force because he felt the recommendations didn’t go far enough, said that it was worrisome that the administration was moving hastily to expand the program. He also added that the notions of community policing and immigration enforcement were incompatible.
“We recognize as chiefs of police and sheriffs that if we are to eliminate the notion of racial profiling, the last thing that we need to do is to give unbridled authority for people in the ranks of public safety,” he said.