Leave immigration tasks for ICE officers

May 1, 2017

Pressure by the Trump administration to partner with federal immigration enforcement agencies to identify or detain undocumented immigrants should continue to be resisted by law enforcement agencies and other departments at the state, county and local levels.

Efforts by the president to keep his campaign promise of cracking down on undocumented immigrants was set in motion in his January 25 executive order. Among the steps outlined in the order is the administration's policy to empower state and local law enforcement agencies across the country to perform functions of immigration officers. That ability was made available in 1996 by an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act, which allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to sign agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, otherwise known as 287(g) agreements. Under the agreements, as outlined in the executive order, local law enforcement officers who are determined to be "qualified and appropriate" would be granted authority to perform functions of immigration officers in relation to the investigation, apprehension or detention of aliens.

We believe that local law enforcement should remain focused on local issues, rather than taking on additional responsibilities of the federal government. Or as Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard stated, "We have enough to do without having to do the federal government's job, as well."

Adding the duties of immigration officers to an already full plate of responsibilities of local law enforcement would take time and energy away from enforcing local laws. Consider the multiple roles law enforcement officers are already asked to fill, which go well beyond protecting people and property. Many communities are already paying additional taxes for a police presence in their schools. Most departments are struggling to put enough officers on street patrols, or towards special assignments, such as drug enforcement and special crime details. Additional duties would not only detract from the duties of local law enforcement, but would be an unapproved use of taxpayer's money to do the work of a federal agency.

Further, if past performance is any indicator, a series of federal audits has found a long list of issues with the 287(g) program that relate to civil rights and public and national safety. Audits found some 287(g) officers didn't receive proper background checks, weren't properly trained and took actions that may have infringed on civil rights. Past audits also found ICE didn't provide proper oversight of such agreements, and that local officers didn't always adhere to the priority policy that called for going after the most serious criminal aliens. 

Still, the president's shift in priorities from going after the most serious criminal aliens to sweeping up all undocumented immigrants, combined with the past issues of the program, should provide another reason for pause to not expand the program on the local level. 

The policy shift is also an indicator to other state and local agencies that the administration may attempt to push enforcement actions into local courts and local school systems, both inappropriate places of ICE action to take place. On the issue of schools, the potential pressure was addressed in a March 31 letter to local districts from state schools superintendent Brian Whiston and state civil rights director Agustin Arbulu, stating: "All children, regardless of citizenship and immigration status, have the right to equal access to a free public education in our K-12 system... In fact, Michigan law requires that undocumented students attend school until they reach a mandated age."

It's a reminder to local officials at all levels, from law enforcement to schools and the courts, to resist pressure from immigration officials to facilitate any such enforcement actions.

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