Democrats urge Biden to stop using local police to enforce federal immigration law

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Charles Davis
·4 min read
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GettyImages 1302314488
An LED truck displaying messages expressing concern over the continuing mass deportations of Black immigrants drives past the office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prior to a #BidenAlsoDeports rally on February 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. Jemal Countess/Getty Images for UndocuBlack Network
  • Sen. Cory Booker and other Democrats want local police to stop enforcing federal immigration law.

  • In a letter, the lawmakers urged DHS Sec. Alejandro Mayorkas to "immediately terminate" the policy.

  • They argue that using local police makes immigrants afraid to report crimes.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

By enlisting local police in efforts to carry out deportations, the federal government is making the country less safe by discouraging immigrants from coming forward to report serious crimes, Democratic lawmakers argued Thursday in an appeal to the Biden administration.

In an April 22 letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, head of the US Department of Homeland Security, Sen. Cory Booker urged the new administration to "immediately terminate" so-called 287(g) agreements, which effectively allow state and local police "to function as federal immigration agents."

The New Jersey Democrat was joined on the letter by Rep. Mike Quigley, of Illinois, and Washington's Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Should the Biden administration fail to act, the lawmakers are prepared to fall back on new legislation, "The PROTECT Immigration Act," repealing the federal government's authority to deputize state and local law enforcement.

"Immigration enforcement should not be delegated to state and local police departments that are not equipped to enforce immigration laws - it is the job of the federal government," Sen. Booker said in a statement. "These agreements undermine public safety and result in the racial profiling and harassment of members of the immigrant community."

Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy director at the ACLU, praised the effort to repeal the program. There is a "growing consensus" that such collaboration is harmful, she told Insider, arguing that it "encourages racial profiling and makes everyone less safe."

What 287(g) does

Under the 287(g) program, initiated by Congress in 1996, participating law enforcement may interrogate suspected noncitizens who have already been arrested; as of July 2020, police departments in 21 states do this, according to the American Immigration Council. Departments in nine states also directly enforce administrative warrants from US Customs and Immigration Enforcement."

Perhaps the most infamous partner of the federal government was the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department, in Arizona, under Joe Arpaio, which in 2007 had signed an agreement with DHS allowing trained officers to interrogate "any alien or person believed to be an alien." A 2011 investigation by the US Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division subsequently found the department "engages in racial profiling of Latinos."

A federal court, the same year, ordered Arpaio to stop detaining people solely for immigration offenses; he refused and was later convicted of criminal contempt.

In light of such abuses, President Barack Obama terminated some previous 287(g) agreements and "generally limited" their use, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. That came after not just unlawful abuse, but evidence that the program was being used to target "noncitizens arrested for misdemeanors and traffic offenses," not serious offenders, per the Migration Policy Institute.

President Donald Trump, however, expanded the program, signing 23 agreements with local law enforcement in Texas alone. That, along with highly visible mass raids in major cities, was followed by a steep decline in both lawful and undocumented immigrants coming forward to report domestic violence and other crimes, according to law enforcement.

President Biden has rescinded a number of his predecessor's policies on immigration, resulting in significantly fewer arrests and formal deportations, not including those summarily removed after crossing the border. But he has thus far declined to terminate 287(g) and related programs, such as "Secure Communities," which allows local law enforcement to share arrested individuals' fingerprints with ICE.

In February, more than 60 members of Congress urged the president to end those initiatives.

DHS did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

"While we've begun a new presidential administration, we still need to put an end to our country's long history of targeting, profiling, and tearing apart immigrant communities while criminalizing those who call them home," Rep. Jayapal said in a statement.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

Read the original article on Business Insider