An immigration program designed to help local police arrest illegal immigrants committing serious crimes and process them for deportation is instead being used to target minor offenses such as drinking and speeding, a government study reported Wednesday.
Part of the problem in the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) program is that “ICE does not have a definition of ‘serious crime,’” said William Riley, acting director of the ICE Office of State and Local Coordination.
The report delivered to the House Homeland Security Committee examined the program called “287 g” and found that memorandums of understanding signed with dozens of local law enforcement agencies contained vague language that failed to articulate how participating agencies could use their authority.
“As a result, some participating agencies are using their 287 g authority to process for removal aliens who have committed minor offenses, such as speeding, carrying an open container of alcohol, and urinating in public,” the Government Accountability Office report said.
“None of these crimes fall into the category of serious criminal activity that ICE officials described to us as the type of crime the 287 g program is expected to pursue,” the report said.
After Mr. Riley’s statement to the committee that there is no definition in place for “serious crime,” committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, questioned how the program’s effectiveness could be evaluated for continued support and funding.
“If we have memorandums of understanding to stop and apprehend serious criminals, but we can’t define what a serious crime is, how can we measure anything?” Mr. Thompson said.
“I am concerned about the focus of the program,” Mr. Riley responded.
Mr. Thompson and Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger say the program promotes profiling.
Richard Stana, GAO spokesman, told the panel that the program is “controversial and polarizing.”
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins defended the program to the panel and said his department’s first arrest in Maryland last year was for driving intoxicated through a school zone during school hours.
“What’s worse, if a person is driving drunk through a school zone with a violent past? Is that any worse than a drug dealer? How do you recognize the worst of the worst?” Sheriff Jenkins said.
“It depends on if it is your kids who are in that schoolyard,” answered Rep. Mike D. Rogers, a Republican from Alabama who says the program is working well in his state.
The 287 g program was created in 1996 to apprehend illegal immigrants involved in violent and serious crimes by partnering ICE with local police to identify, locate and arrest the suspects.
The GAO report audited nearly 30 of almost 70 local law enforcement agencies enrolled in the program and found that 43,000 illegal immigrants were arrested last year.
In Frederick County, 337 arrestees have been identified through the program as being in the U.S. illegally, while 309 have been placed into removal proceedings. Of those, nine were members of the notoriously violent gangs MS-13 and 18th Street from El Salvador, Sheriff Jenkins said.
“Among those arrested and identified were a Nicaraguan military-trained sniper and a Salvadoran guerrilla fighter trained in knife fighting,” Sheriff Jenkins said.
Sheriff Jenkins said others arrested under the program were accused of attempted murder, rape, armed robbery, assault, child abuse, burglary and possession of counterfeit U.S. currency.
“I strongly believe I am representing the voice of America. The citizens of the United States clearly are frustrated with the problems associated with illegal immigration including the crime, national security risks, and the associated economic risks,” Sheriff Jenkins said. “Detractors and opponents of the [program] will say they want nothing done.”
Chief Manger told the panel many police agencies are increasingly declining to join the program.
“It undermines the trust and cooperation with immigrant communities that are essential elements of community policing,” Chief Manger said.
He said local law enforcement agencies also are concerned that they do not have the financial resources to enforce a “federal responsibility.”