WASHINGTON, DC – Today the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General issued a comprehensive report confirming civil rights abuses in a federal program that “deputizes” state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law. The Inspector General tells of local officers arresting individuals who have committed no offense – including even victims – for the sole purpose of identifying whether they have lawful immigration status.
“Nothing is more debilitating to American values than abuses committed by local police who are the very essence of law enforcement and protection of our communities,” said Bernie Wolfsdorf, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). In one case, a supervisor recounted how a state highway patrol officer transported an accident victim to a jail to determine the victim’s immigration status. The officer did not take him to a hospital. The victim was not even brought to the jail to be charged with a state crime. The sole -and improper–purpose of the officer’s actions was to determine whether the victim was deportable. “Abuses like this severely undermine communities’ faith in those charged with protecting us and keeping our streets, communities, and businesses safe.”
“Many think demagogues like Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona are the exception to the rule, but we now know that such abuses are happening elsewhere and with the permission of the federal government,” said Wolfsdorf. The Inspector General found that, under this deputizing program, some local police have launched operations with the aim of detaining individuals for minor offenses and violations of local ordinances so they could identify unauthorized immigrants. Police apprehended immigrants even when they had no prior arrests on state or local charges. The federal report confirms what community groups have known for years: that officers arrest individuals for minor offenses, such as fishing without a license or driving with broken taillight, as a pretext to initiate deportation proceedings.
Under section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, state and local law enforcement agencies, acting under federal supervision, may assume federal immigration enforcement powers. This delegation of immigration enforcement power must be executed through formal written Memoranda of Agreement between the federal government and the local authority. The memoranda require state and local officers to abide by federal civil rights laws. The Inspector General found widespread lack of adequate training, guidance, monitoring or oversight. “The federal government has failed in its duty to train and supervise local officers. This program has turned local police into agents of fear within law-abiding communities,” said Wolfsdorf. “Immigration lawyers hear reports everyday that immigrants are afraid to talk to the police and to report crimes. Through this program the federal government is undermining the ability of local authorities to ensure all Americans’ safety and security.” The report also noted that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) failed to provide accurate information about the program to Congress and the public. AILA urges Secretary Napolitano to terminate immediately the entire 287(g) program and calls upon Congress to end its funding.