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County cops seek to renew federal-local immigration enforcement partnership



The sign at a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department substation. The agency seeks to renew a federal-local immigration enforcement partnership, which deputizes county authorities to screen inmates for immigration status and possible deportation.
The sign at a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department substation. The agency seeks to renew a federal-local immigration enforcement partnership, which deputizes county authorities to screen inmates for immigration status and possible deportation.
Pyrat Wesly/Flickr

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is seeking to renew a federal-local immigration enforcement partnership that deputizes county authorities to screen inmates for immigration status - and possible deportation.

Los Angeles is one of two remaining counties in the state, along with Orange County, to continue participating in the program known as 287(g). The federal government has scaled back the voluntary program in recent years as it's expanded the broader Secure Communities, which 287(g) predates.

If approved by county supervisors, the new federal-local agreement would replace an earlier agreement that's set to expire at the end of September, according to a draft memo. Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida confirmed the department's request to renew its 287(g) contract; she said the Board of Supervisors may vote on it Sept. 23.

The county has participated since 2005 in 287(g), in which state and local cops are trained by federal officials to do immigration enforcement work. In the jail-only model used in Los Angeles County, they are trained do in-depth screening of inmates who are due to be released. If they find an inmate is a deportable immigrant, the person is handed over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement upon his or her release.

"When we start the process of releasing you, we notify ICE," Nishida explained, "and the ICE bus comes and picks you up."

287(g) is named for a 1996 amendment to the immigration law that authorized it. The program differs from the more cost-effective Secure Communities, initiated in 2008. That program lets state and local authorities automatically share the fingerprints of people taken during the booking process with immigration officials via a database. If there is a match, agents are notified and the person held for deportation.

Secure Communities, which is not voluntary, has long been criticized by immigrant rights advocates as landing too many non-criminals and low-level offenders in deportation. The 2014 California law known as the Trust Act now sets limits on who state and local authorities can detain for ICE.

Local immigrant advocates aren't pleased with the Sheriff's Department request to renew 287(g). Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles blasted the decision in an emailed statement:

"Approval of such a troublesome agreement with ICE will likely lead to more unjust and inhumane deportations at a time when California as a whole is emerging a leader against the deportation machine known as 'Secure Communities,'" Salas said.

Los Angeles was until recently one of four California counties using the program; the others were Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside. The latter two contracts have not been renewed. Nationwide, the program is significantly smaller than it was a few years ago: According to ICE, there were once 75 jurisdictions participating in the program; now, there are only 35 nationwide. 

The biggest drop came in December 2012, when the agency announced it would not renew certain kinds of 287(g) contracts that involved task forces, in part due to cost and efficiency problems. These contracts involved cops being authorized to carry out broader immigration enforcement duties, including immigration status checks.

Remaining 287(g) contracts are primarily jail-only, like one used in Los Angeles County. ICE officials say these contracts fill enforcement gaps that Secure Communities can miss.

"The bottom line is that 287(g) is still an important enforcement tool," said Virginia Kice, an ICE spokeswoman in Los Angeles. "The thing that people need to appreciate is that Secure Communities is going to ID and flag cases covering individuals who have already had some encounter with DHS. But it will not detect cases of individuals who might be an enforcement priority if they have not previously had an encounter with DHS."

Nishida with the Sheriff's Department confirmed that the proposed agreement has been modified to comply with the Trust Act, but didn't elaborate on changes.