Thursday, October 1, 2009

Task force advises limiting federal immigration arrest program

September 30, 2009
Jeremy Roebuck | The Monitor

A U.S. government task force recommended Wednesday that the federal Department of Homeland Security scale back an initiative that allows local authorities to enforce the country’s immigration law.

The so-called 287(g) program — named after the section of law that created it — should be limited to identifying illegal immigrants in state prisons and county jails and exclude any efforts to track them down outside of criminal investigations, the Southwest Border Task Force said.

The proposal came as part of the group’s first report to the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which sought input in June from several border politicians, law enforcement officials, academics and business leaders.

The task force presented 18 other proposals Wednesday on issues ranging from streamlining the border crossing process to ongoing cooperation with Mexican law enforcement.

“Our goal is to get all of the Southwest border on the same playing field and draw out the realities on the border versus the rhetoric,” said Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, the task force’s vice chairman.

Civil rights and Hispanic groups have urged President Barack Obama’s administration in recent months to end the 287(g) program amid mounting evidence that some participating police departments have used the newly granted authority to justify racial profiling.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose jurisdiction includes unincorporated areas outside Phoenix, has been accused of targeting individuals for immigration review based solely on their appearance and is currently facing a U.S. Justice Department investigation into alleged civil rights violations stemming from his participation in the program.

Treviño, a staunch critic of 287(g) in its current form, said Wednesday that assuming a role in enforcing federal immigration law distracts local authorities from their primary duties and can cause problems with illegal immigrants in their communities.

“We do not want a repeat of what has happened in Maricopa County,” he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced during the summer that her department would review 287(g)’s scope. Since then, the number of participating law enforcement agencies has swelled to nearly 70.

In addition to changing the 287(g) program, the Southwest Border Task Force also urged Wednesday that Homeland Security place more emphasis on recruiting customs agents for the nation’s land ports of entry.

Although Congress has appropriated money to expand the ranks of the U.S. Border Patrol by 8,200 since 2006, hiring for customs agents has not kept pace. Homeland Security budgets for fiscal year 2009 included funds for 2,200 new Border Patrol agents but only 22 additional customs agents.

Other task force recommendations include:

>> Creating a White House office to coordinate approving applications for new border ports of entry such as the soon-to-open Anzalduas International Bridge in Mission. Currently, local entities must complete 13 steps before winning approval and deal with four government agencies outside of Congress and the White House.

>> Adopting clear definitions for terms such as “spillover violence,” which the task force suggested should be narrowly defined as violence originating within a Mexican criminal organization that plays out north of the border.

>> Setting up a federal government grant program that would routinely provide money to border-area law enforcement.

Homeland Security is not bound to implement any of the recommended policy changes, but Treviño, the vice chair, said he is hopeful they will receive fair consideration.

“If DHS — or any other federal law enforcement agency — is going to meet their mission, they are going to have to have the 100 percent cooperation of local law enforcement,” he said. “I think this is a good first step.”

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