08/12/2010 01:00 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

287(g): It's Broken. Don't Fix It, Get Rid of It.

Compelling evidence shows that the same poorly conceived and badly implemented enforcement strategies that have led to national outrage around Arizona's SB 1070 have received little attention as state-level enforcement programs in the form of the federal law known as 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Enacted in 1996, 287(g) was expanded after September 11, 2001 as an anti-terrorism tool. It has grown to include more than 70 local police jurisdictions that have signed agreements with the federal government to allow them to deputize local officials to enforce federal immigration law. Yet, growing evidence shows that the program allows local and state police to carry out federal immigration enforcement in an unchecked and inefficient manner all over the country.

A new NCLR report, The Impact of Section 287(G) of the Immigration and Nationality Act on the Latino Community, released today, confirms that the 287(g) program is far from the smart immigration enforcement that our country needs. The program was intended to make America safer by aiding in the apprehension and removal of dangerous, criminal undocumented immigrants from the U.S., but in effect it provides unchecked authority to local law enforcement. The program has also entangled the broader immigrant community by leading to the arrests of nonviolent and nonthreatening immigrants, and exacerbated racial profiling of Hispanics at the state level. The program remains in place despite growing evidence that it undermines public safety, lacks accountability, and weakens communication between police and Latinos.

Among the report's findings are:

  • Most of the agreements (61%) are in southern states, many of which have experienced a particularly rapid growth in new immigrant populations. Although the program was enacted in 1996, it was reframed and expanded as an anti-terrorism tool, greatly expanding after 2001. While only one memorandum of agreement was signed in 2002, the number grew to 30 signed agreements in 2008.
  • In many instances, the people arrested under the program have no criminal history or are detained for offenses such as minor traffic violations, or even playing loud music.
  • Deputized officers are required to undergo four to five weeks of training with little follow-up training, while their federal counterparts are trained for four to five months.
  • A survey conducted in Davidson County, Tennessee, where a 287(g) agreement was signed in 2007, found that 42% of Latino respondents said they knew of a crime that had not been reported to the police, in many cases out of fear of possible deportation.
  • While communities of color have increased negative perceptions of the police, the same Davidson County survey also found that more than half (54%) of the respondents in the Latino community said they would not report a crime in the future out of fear of possible deportation, compared to 27% of Blacks.

Despite the serious and numerous concerns raised by offices such as the Government Accountability Office and the Office of Inspector General, the Obama administration continues to maintain and expand the 287(g) program. NCLR calls for the termination of the program. Sound policy with congressional oversight is what's needed to protect our borders and fix our broken system. Congress and the president must work to find real solutions to our immigration system, rather than use band-aids to superficially remedy the problem.