Blog of Rights

The Consequences and Costs of a 287(g) Jail Agreement: One Tennessee County’s Story

By Lindsay Kee, ACLU of Tennessee at 1:31pm

Though street-level 287(g) agreements are ending, ICE is continuing the troubled 287(g) program in jails

“I had a girl who came to school…a ninth grader and she was very distraught, crying…,” a local Nashville teacher said when asked about the impact of the 287(g) program, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that delegates immigration enforcement authority to participating law enforcement agencies across the country.

“She had witnessed a shooting outside of her apartment complex…The police…interviewed her.  One of the guys who was involved saw her talking about it…so he had someone go and threaten her family later that night, and they have not told the police because they’re scared to…[The family] didn’t feel safe. They never actually as a family went to the police and said, ‘We were threatened’…[Instead] they moved.”

This incident is but one of many examples of the erosion of public trust in law enforcement, and the consequent deterioration of public safety, caused by 287(g) and documented in the ACLU of Tennessee’s new report, “Consequences & Costs: Lessons Learned from Davidson County Tennessee’s Jail Model 287(g) Program.”

Other local advocates in the report had heard from clients or their family members who had been victims of robbery, domestic violence, vandalism and sexual exploitation who had never reported these crimes to the police for fear of immigration implications for themselves or a family member.

When a significant portion of the population feels uncomfortable reporting crimes they have witnessed or experienced, it poses a public-safety threat for all residents. This is especially ironic given the 287(g) program’s stated goal of responding to “immigration violators who pose a threat to national security or public safety.”

As our report demonstrates, the damage to community-police relations incurred by the Davidson County 287(g) program stems from its encouragement of racial profiling and the deportation of nearly 10,000 people largely for minor, often traffic-related, offenses during its implementation.

An analysis of probable cause statements made by police officers upon arrest revealed some officers using language describing race, ethnicity or immigration status. This suggests that those officers mistakenly believed that these factors made people more eligible for arrest.

Indeed, after implementation of 287(g), arrests for the single charge of “No Driver’s License” that led to removal increased 136 percent. When “No Driver’s License”—something that cannot be determined until after a stop is already made—is the sole charge, it suggests racial profiling. Driving without a license, a misdemeanor, topped the list of charges that became a gateway for deportation under Davidson County’s 287(g) program.

While 287(g) was sold as an effective mechanism to deport dangerous criminals and make Nashville safer, when you look at arrests of foreign-born people while it was in place, the percentage of arrests for the most dangerous crimes actually decreased.

Instead, 287(g) has denigrated public safety by creating fear of law enforcement in the immigrant community, making people less likely to report crimes. Another local advocate illustrated the fear of law enforcement caused by 287(g) when describing a client.

“A mother shared that her daughter was married to an abusive husband and it was so bad that the family knew that it really wasn’t a healthy relationship...Even in the face of knowing that that was not a safe situation for their daughter, they didn’t know what to do because they didn’t want to call the police…they were really afraid of…reporting the abuse that was happening from their daughter’s husband…They were afraid that they would be deported.”

It is precisely this fear and the resultant weakening of community-police relations that has led law enforcement leaders across the country to speak out against 287(g), including the Police Executive Research Forum, the Police Foundation, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Former Los Angeles Chief of Police William Bratton, who refused to participate in 287(g), perhaps summarized the negative impact of 287(g) best—in Davidson County and across the country—when he said, “Criminals are the biggest beneficiaries when immigrants fear the police.”

Read the full report on Davidson County, Tennessee’s 287(g) program.

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