House Hearing Today Will Examine Problems With Local Immigration Enforcement

March 4, 2009 12:00 am

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Agreements Between Localities And ICE Should Be Suspended Pending Further Review, Says ACLU

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WASHINGTON – The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing today to examine immigration enforcement agreements between localities and the federal government. As part of the hearing entitled, “Examining 287(g): the Role of State and Local Law Enforcement in Immigration Law,” the American Liberties Union will urge Congress to temporarily suspend and then provide long-overdue federal oversight of these agreements which have resulted in illegal profiling of Latinos. Immigration enforcement by local law enforcement, including sheriffs, has also resulted in the unlawful detention and deportation of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

“Immigration enforcement belongs in the hands of federal immigration agents trained in federal immigration and racial profiling laws, not in the hands of state or local law enforcement,” said Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Since immigration law is extremely complex and constantly changing, it is impossible for sheriffs to function effectively as both guardians of public safety and as immigration agents.”

In recent years, localities across the country have entered into agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce immigration law under section 287(g) of the Immigration and National Act. With these agreements between ICE and local law enforcement, the federal government has completely shirked its responsibility to exercise oversight and monitoring of the 287(g) program. The result has been abuse and illegal profiling by local law enforcement across the country -- all under the cloak of federal immigration authority.

In 2007, Pedro Guzman, a U.S. citizen born in California, was deported to Mexico after the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office wrongly turned him over to ICE for deportation. In Mexico, Mr. Guzman spent three months bathing in rivers and eating out of trash cans while trying to make his way back to the U.S.

“Mr. Guzman fell victim to the local sheriff’s office which used its authority under the 287(g) program to refer him to ICE for deportation,” said Lin. “What kind of country do we live in when a U.S.-born citizen can find himself deported to a foreign country? Mr. Guzman’s case is one of many across the country illustrating how the 287(g) program has run amok.

“Now is the time for Congress to demand that the Department of Homeland Security suspend the 287(g) program and conduct a thorough review of all 287(g) programs across the country. Congress should hold field hearings in all of the jurisdictions where 287(g) programs have been in place for some time, such as North Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Arkansas and Southern California. The ACLU urges the Departments of Homeland Security and Justice to establish rigorous controls over the 287(g) program to safeguard against unlawful deportations of U.S. citizens and illegal profiling of people of color.”

In February, the ACLU of North Carolina co-authored a report on the 287(g) program in place in many counties in North Carolina. According to Rebecca Headen, staff attorney with the ACLU of North Carolina, “The 287(g) program has created a climate of racial profiling and community fear throughout the state of North Carolina. Local law enforcement has established immigration checkpoints in areas frequented by Latinos including churches, flea markets, and trailer parks. Latinos have been arrested for improper vehicle tags, driving without a license, and fishing without a license. State troopers and local sheriffs’ officers detained a bus with Latino passengers for hours for no reason other than the assertion they look foreign. Across North Carolina, Latinos now live under the constant threat that a trip to the grocery store or to Sunday worship could result in the deportation of their families.”

Nowhere are the accounts of police misconduct more egregious than in Maricopa County, Arizona, where Sheriff Arpaio and his deputies, pursuant to a 287(g) program, have engaged in a systematic campaign of illegal profiling of Latinos. Deputies have detained and arrested U.S. citizens in front of their family businesses. Latino-Americans have been selectively targeted for traffic citations, when their Caucasian neighbor counterparts are given oral warnings.

The Maricopa County sheriff’s illegal profiling practices have been challenged in a class action lawsuit, Ortega v. Arpaio, in which the ACLU is co-counsel. In February, a federal court ruled that the lawsuit against the Maricopa sheriff will proceed.

“Sheriff Arpaio may be the most notorious example of police abuse under the 287(g) program but he is not the only example,” said Dan Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “Across the country local sheriffs are misusing and abusing their authority under the 287(g) program to harass Latino communities. Law enforcement practices that target people solely based on their color have no place in a free country.”

To see the ACLU's submitted testimony for the hearing, go to:

For more information about the 287(g) report by the ACLU of North Carolina, go to:

For more details about the Ortega v. Arpaio case, go to:

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