In a recent White House meeting, President Obama and an eclectic group of administration officials, business and law enforcement leaders, former and current elected officials and other "stakeholders" discussed current prospects for comprehensive immigration reform, one of Obama's notable and still unfulfilled campaign promises.
According to official records of the gathering, big-city law enforcement leaders relayed their concerns that “without reform, enforcing federal immigration laws is a distraction from their important public safety and crime fighting mandates to keep their local communities safe.” In other words, using city and county resources to enforce outdated federal immigration laws compromises the ability of local police to do their jobs.
In the face of objections from both immigrant advocates and law enforcement experts, state legislatures across the country continue to consider Arizona-style laws that seek to involve local police in verifying immigrants’ citizenship status. And despite its failure to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, the Obama administration supports a host of programs explicitly designed to delegate immigration enforcement duties to local authorities.
287(g), the Criminal Alien Program and Secure Communities, three programs run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), leverage partnerships between local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities to identify and eventually deport non-citizens. In a new report, The Cost of Failure: The Burden of Immigration Enforcement in America’s Cities, the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy argues that these programs impose staggering fiscal, public safety and civic costs on the nation’s cash-strapped cities.
After examining the impact of these partnerships in major cities, we find that local immigration enforcement programs are costly for city budgets and local economies struggling to close budget gaps and preserve core services. As cities spend limited resources jailing and detaining immigrants in service of federal immigration priorities, they receive inadequate support in return. For example, one Government Accountability Office survey indicated that 62 percent of 287(g) enrolled law enforcement agencies received zero funding from the federal government for operating the program.
In addition, the report shows how local immigration enforcement can be counterproductive to protecting public safety. Using police officers to perform immigration duties and enforce civil immigration laws diverts time and resources away from criminal investigations. Local enforcement also compromises police-community relations necessary to policing city streets. When immigrants fear that contact with local police could expose them to federal immigration authorities, they hesitate to come forward to police when they are victims or witnesses of crime.
ICE maintains that immigration enforcement at the federal and local levels focuses on “criminal aliens” and immigrants who pose a threat to our public safety and national security, but evidence from cities around the country indicates otherwise. Too often, local immigration enforcement results in the deportation of immigrants that are never convicted of any crime. Since 2008, the Secure Communities program alone has resulted in the removal of over 52,000 non-criminal immigrants from the country, according to ICE figures.
It’s encouraging that the Obama administration is committed to getting immigration reform back on the Congressional agenda. Though the best way to fix the system is through legislative action, Obama can still take the advice of law enforcement experts and end the costly involvement of local police in enforcing federal immigration laws in such desperate need of repair.