Anti-287(g) Chorus Grows with Justice Strategies' Democracy on ICE

Hopefully, 2009 A.D. will be the year Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, starts to melt. You may recall a little essay I posted to this blog in December entitled, "A Modest Proposal: A World Without ICE," in which I suggested "a total moratorium on all ICE activities, as preparation for the agency's ultimate demise." An employee of ICE called me after the fact to chuckle about the scope of my proposal. Heh. They're not laughing anymore.

Indeed, as was pointed out in this week's Bird column, there's a growing chorus calling for the end to ICE's massive 287(g) program, which is empowering bigots and tin-pot tyrants from the Atlantic to the Pacific shores with the federal powers of immigration enforcement. A ruthless new study from the think tank Justice Strategies called Democracy on ICE refers to this dissemination of 287(g) authority as the "devolution" of ICE. You can read the report in its entirety here.

I think it's interesting to note that the 287(g) program itself preceded the formation of ICE by several years, and that ICE's anti-immigrant dragnet has grown wider and more powerful as more and more law enforcement organizations have signed Memoranda of Agreement with ICE to get hold of that 287(g) authority. Under 287(g), law enforcement personnel are deputized as ICE agents after receiving around four to five weeks of training, in contrast to the four or five months of training ordinary federal ICE agents receive.

So studies such as the one issued by Justice Strategies today, and the one issued by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Law School earlier this month are causing ICE's highly-paid rationalizers and bureaucrats to poo in their proverbial pantaloons. I know for certain that they read and re-read these policy reviews, and as more and more studies point out the problems with ICE as a whole and with the 287(g) program in particular, the more they look to sharpen their resumes and prepare for the dismantling of ICE as they know it.

The Justice Strategies report catalogues numerous problems with 287(g). The program was marketed by ICE as a way of removing "criminal illegal aliens" for the U.S. But in fact, the program promotes the arrest of nonviolent offenders; in essence, criminalizing undocumented residents for their very existence. Resources are diverted from fighting crime to enforcing civil immigration laws. Thus, as the study notes, "The 287(g) program has harmed not served our public safety."

Race and residency status have "propelled" the 287(g) program, say the authors. And in addition to the serious civil rights violations that have occurred and continue to occur under the 287(g) umbrella, 287(g) has proved a financial burden to already cash-strapped communities.

Indeed, according to the study:

"ICE fact sheets incorrectly tout the 287(g) program as a net money saver. The program purportedly saved Arizona $9 million by accelerating the removal of immigrants from the prison system. But this truncated economics does not count the $30 million in state monies appropriated from 2007 through 2009 to fund partnerships with ICE. With a $2 billion budget deficit, among the largest for any state in the nation, Arizona has yet to fully itemize the costs of immigration enforcement. And despite infusions of state cash, Maricopa County accrued a $1.3 million budget deficit in the program's first three months."

The paper's authors compare the way Arizona rushed headlong into its ICE-officiated 287(g)-nuptials with the more thoughtful approach of a Republican sheriff in Morris County, New Jersey. Sheriff Edward Rochford researched the impact of participating in the 287(g) program for the county, and ran into silence and stonewalling from ICE officials when he asked them questions about cost. Ultimately, Rochford concluded the program was unnecessary, despite pressure from a Democratic mayor in the county to participate. Rochford also found that ICE was not going to reimburse the county for start-up costs, as well as other expenses. Following Rochford's advice, the county wisely rejected joining the 287(g) boondoggle.

As for Maricopa County, Justice Studies details how ICE allowed our egomaniacal Sheriff Joe Arpaio to have the largest 287(g) force in the nation, in spite of his lust for power, his addiction to publicity, and his indifference to civil rights and the dictates of the U.S. Constitution. Interestingly, New Times is referred to in many passages, whether it's New Times' founders Jim Larkin and Mike Lacey being arrested in the middle of the night by members of the MCSO's Selective Enforcement Unit, or reports culled from New Times blogs concerning Joe's anti-immigration sweeps.

The report concludes that the 287(g) program should be terminated and investigated, in that order. The Justice Department needs to determine if any laws or government policies were violated in implementing 287(g). Personally, nothing would give me more pleasure than to see ICE agents and 287(g)-men hauled before the bar of justice. Particularly after the terror, pain and suffering they've inflicted on America's immigrant population. 

Meanwhile, the criticism is already having some impact on the way ICE does business. DHS honcho Janet Napolitano just ordered a review of a standard ICE raid on a Bellingham, Washington manufacturing plant. It's a small step in the right direction. Very small. But if Napolitano thinks a little review here and there will spare ICE and the 287(g) program from the steady onslaught from activists, religious leaders and intellectuals, she is grossly mistaken.

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