IG: State and local immigration enforcement activities lack oversight

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement arm of the Homeland Security Department must do a better job overseeing a program delegating federal immigration law enforcement authority to state and local law officers, the DHS inspector general said.

Despite significant efforts to improve management of what's known as the 287(g) program, a reference to the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that authorized the delegation of federal authority to states and localities, problems continue, according to a new report by Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner.

ICE began entering into 287(g) agreements with state and local jurisdictions in 2002, but the program really took off after its federal funding grew from $5 million in 2006 to $68 million in 2010. As of June 2009, the bureau had 66 active agreements in 23 states involving 833 state and local law enforcement officials.

"The challenge for ICE is to balance its need for additional resources with efforts to ensure that these activities are conducted in accordance with the [memorandums of agreement with state and local entities]," the IG wrote. "In addition, ICE must ensure that its 287(g) efforts achieve a balance among immigration enforcement, local public safety priorities and civil liberties."

Among the problems the IG identified were inadequate civil liberties protections and insufficient training or guidance for participating law enforcement personnel. ICE offices expected to provide oversight were understaffed for the effort as well.

The 287(g) program is seen by many as a boon to both federal and local law enforcement officials. The assistance from local law enforcement has reduced federal officials' workload and has given state and local officials more latitude and resources in investigating violent crimes, smuggling, money laundering, and gang and organized crime activity.

A significant percentage of illegal immigrant removals from the United States occur because of the program, the IG found.

Under the law, resources are to be prioritized to arrest and detain the most dangerous aliens, classified by ICE according to three levels. But ICE has not established a process to ensure that happens, the IG said.

Arrest information the IG obtained for a sample of 280 aliens identified through the 287(g) program at four sites showed that only 9 percent were among Level 1 offenders, the most dangerous and responsible for major drug offenses and violent crimes, including murder, rape and kidnapping. Another 44 percent were arrested for Level 2 crimes, such as minor drug or property offenses, fraud and money laundering. The rest were responsible for lesser Level 3 infractions.

"With no specific target levels for arrest, detention and removal priority levels, and with performance measures that do not account for all investigative work and criminal prosecutions, ICE cannot be assured that the 287(g) program is meeting its intended purpose, or that resources are being appropriately targeted toward aliens who pose the greatest risk to public safety and the community," the IG wrote.

The IG made 33 recommendations, 32 of which ICE accepted and has either addressed or is in the process of addressing.

The recommendation in contention is that ICE establish collection and reporting standards to ensure jurisdictions do not violate civil liberties. "This would require the collection of data beyond that which DHS and [the Justice Department] require of their own law enforcement officers and agencies," wrote Robert De Antonio, director of the Audit Liaison Office at ICE, in response to the IG's findings.

"Although ICE strongly opposes racial profiling and adheres fully to all data collection requirements of federal law, the collection of this data raises logistical issues, including whether a [task force officer] would report all interactions, just interactions predicated solely on 287(g) authority, and how the TFO would distinguish in a meaningful way while performing his or here daily duties," De Antonio wrote.

That view troubles officials at the American Civil Liberties Union, which has opposed the 287(g) program since its inception.

"The DHS OIG report confirms in detail what the ACLU has known for many years -- that the 287(g) program, fundamentally flawed and incompetently administered, presents serious civil rights and civil liberties problems for U.S. citizens and immigrants," said Joanne Lin, ACLU legislative counsel.

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