How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A phase-out for 287(g) immigration enforcement partnerships

Pyrat Wesly/Flickr

The sign at a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department substation, June 2011. The department is one of 57 law enforcement agencies in the country that participates in 287(g), a federal-local immigration enforcement program. Its 287(g) contract is not among those expiring Monday, but all contracts will be under review by federal officials.

A part of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's 287(g) enforcement program is coming to an end. It's become less relevant as the federal government rolls out the broader - and cheaper - Secure Communities program around the country.

It's not being scrapped entirely, at least not yet. But there's a possibility that the agency could phase out more 287(g) contracts with local agencies, including in California, in the months ahead.

Last week, in an ICE memo announcing another record year of deportations, the agency also announced that it would not renew any of its agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies operating 287(g) task forces. These are federal-local partnerships under which local cops receive immigration enforcement training from ICE and are authorized to carry out related duties, including immigration status checks.

On Dec. 31, 287(g) contracts will expire for 25 local law enforcement agencies around the country. So far, that doesn't affect any contracts in California, where four local sheriff's departments - in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties - participate in the program not via task force but within local jails where officers check inmates' immigration status. But these jail-only arrangements are also under review, ICE officials say.

Of the 39 existing jail-only 287(g) arrangements, 33 were also set to expire Dec. 31. According to ICE officials, these agencies have been notified that their contracts will continue until June 30, while the agency continues to review agreements to see which ones to continue or not. The agency will also review six other contracts that were set to expire between this coming spring and fall (including Los Angeles County's, which expires next October) to determine whether to continue them.

A 2013 federal budget brief hinted at a 287(g) phase-out earlier this year. In it, ICE announced that the agency would begin discontinuing the "least productive" task force agreements in light of budget limits.

"The Secure Communities screening process is more consistent, efficient and cost effective in identifying and removing criminal and other priority aliens," the 2013 budget brief read.

287(g) is named after a 1996 amendment to the immigration law that authorized it. While it has been on the books for years, it took a while for the program to spread. Florida was the first state to put it in place 10 years ago.  Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties signed on in 2005. But years later, its range remained limited. To date, 57 law enforcement agencies within 21 states participate in the voluntary program. 

Many agencies declined to participate. In San Diego County, officials cited limited manpower and finances. Over the years a series of reports, including a 2009 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, found flaws with the program's ability to meet its objectives. 

The federal government paid for the training ICE offered to local agencies under 287(g). While the task force programs varied, they typically consisted of training and deputizing local cops to identify and detain deportable immigrants encountered "in the course of daily duties," said an ICE fact sheet, much in the way some state laws have attempted to do. Each agency entered into a contract with ICE, known as a memorandum of agreement, that defined the scope of each particular partnership.

In Los Angeles County (along with Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties), most agencies use 287(g) to identify deportable immigrants who land in local jails and state prisons. In jails, law enforcement generally conducts the screening post-conviction instead of on the receiving end, as occurs with Secure Communities.

That is one difference between the two programs. Another is that unlike 287(g), which involves paid and trained personnel, Secure Communities functions via an electronic database, with fingerprints taken at booking facilities automatically shared and compared against federal criminal and immigration records.

Read more about 287(g) here.

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