Groups Urge Obama to Halt Immigration Police Program

A diverse array of several hundred advocacy groups has urged President Obama to end a program which allows local police to enforce federal immigration law. Houston-area immigration lawyer Annie Banerjee joins the chorus of boos for a program that not only doesn’t work, it leads to blatant injustice.

Acting as a unified coalition, a diverse array of concerned immigrant advocacy groups wrote a letter to the President strongly urging him to consider ending a program that allows local police to enforce federal immigration law. The program, barely known to the U.S. citizenry-at-large, is known under the veiled code name “287(g).” The program actively deputizes police to turn over suspects or criminals to immigration authorities for possible deportation. Immigrant rights groups have asserted that the program has led to numerous civil rights violations and racial profiling. “It’s awful,” Banerjee explains, “local law enforcement is suddenly given a tremendous degree of latitude and responsibility. It’s just asking for excesses to occur.”
The letter was sent by the National Immigration Law Center and includes signatures by more than 500 local and national groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

Organizations have planned vigils, marches and news conferences this week to raise awareness about their criticisms. “If a vigil takes place in the Houston area, I’m going to make an effort to attend,” Banerjee says.

In July, the Department of Homeland Security announced an expansion of 287(g) and some changes, including a new agreement that all participating agencies must sign. The agreement requires that police agencies focus their efforts on criminals who pose a threat to public safety, with less emphasis on those who commit minor crimes.

Since the announcement, administration officials have repeatedly defended 287(g), saying the cooperation between local and federal law enforcement improves public safety by resulting in the detention and deportation of illegal immigrants with criminal records. They have said the changes make the program more uniform and fair. “But it’s not,” Banerjee asserts, “There have been a multitude of questionable practices given cover under this odious law. Minor crimes still draw the attention of local police officials; it’s just that they’re trying to be more subtle about whom they incarcerate with a bent toward eventual deportation.”
The letter itself referred to “racial profiling” and “other civil rights abuses” in a condemnatory fashion. In actuality, it’s quite possible that rigid enforcement of 287(g) actually detracts from public safety, while addressing the immigration crisis in only the most superficial of ways. The letter also stated that such 287(g) enforcement “has worked counter to community policing goals by eroding the trust and cooperation of immigrant communities.”

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