House Hearing Will Examine Illegal Profiling and Police Misconduct By Local Law Enforcement Acting As Federal Immigration Agents

April 1, 2009 12:00 am

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U.S. Department Of Homeland Security Should Suspend Agreements With Local And State Law Enforcement, Says ACLU

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WASHINGTON – Two House Judiciary Committee Subcommittees will hold a joint hearing tomorrow to examine civil rights abuses committed by state and local police functioning as federal immigration agents. As part of the hearing entitled, “The Public Safety and Civil Rights Implications of State and Local Enforcement of Federal Immigration Laws,” the American Civil Liberties Union in written testimony will urge Congress to suspend all local immigration enforcement agreements that have resulted in illegal profiling of Latinos and unlawful detention and deportation of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

“Too many sheriffs, after being deputized as immigration agents, have treated their new authority as a license to profile and discriminate,” said Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel. “The ACLU has received complaints across the country of U.S. citizens of Latino appearance being illegally stopped, detained, arrested, and even deported by local law enforcement functioning as immigration agents. Immigration law, like tax law, is very complex and constantly evolving. Since immigration law is exclusively federal, immigration enforcement belongs in the hands of the federal government only, not in the hands of county sheriff’s deputies and police officers.”

Since 2002, the federal government has actively shifted enforcement of civil immigration law to localities. State, county and local law enforcement agencies enter into agreements under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) authorizes local law enforcement officers to perform immigration duties under the training and supervision of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Unfortunately, the federal government has completely abandoned its responsibilities to monitor and provide meaningful oversight of the 287(g) program. Consequently, sheriffs and police officers who, for example, are not adequately trained or supervised by ICE often rely on race or ethnicity as reason to suspect that an individual is undocumented. Any person who looks or sounds “foreign” is more likely to be stopped by police and more likely to be arrested, rather than given a warning or let go, when stopped.

One such individual is Julio Mora, a U.S. citizen who was stopped and arrested by Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (“MCSO”) deputies in February. Despite being a U.S. citizen, Mr. Mora was arrested and detained for several hours without reasonable suspicion or probable cause until MCSO could confirm his citizenship. While in MCSO custody, Mr. Mora was humiliated by deputies who forced him to urinate with his hands cuffed and then mocked him for not being able to do so. Mr. Mora will be testifying at the hearing about his experiences at the hands of MCSO deputies.

The ACLU, along with Steptoe & Johnson LLP and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has sued MCSO for illegal profiling of Latino motorists in Maricopa County. In February, a federal court ruled that the class action lawsuit against MCSO will proceed.

“Discriminatory practices and policies in local enforcement of immigration law have no place in this country and must be stopped,” said ACLU staff attorney Mónica Ramírez, who is co-counsel in the case and co-authored the ACLU’s written testimony. “We urge Congress to take steps to make it unnecessary to bring further litigation on behalf of Latinos who have been illegally profiled and harassed by local law enforcement for the purpose of enforcing the immigration laws.”

In February, the ACLU of North Carolina co-authored a report entitled, “The Policies and Politics of Local Immigration Enforcement Laws: 287(g) Program in North Carolina.” Katy Parker, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, added, “All across the state, Latinos live in fear of being detained as they go to work, worship or run any other routine errand. Local law enforcement agencies have clearly targeted Latinos with immigration checkpoints near certain trailer parks, churches and flea markets.” Deborah Weissman, law professor at the University of North Carolina, co-authored the report and will be testifying at tomorrow’s hearing.

The ACLU urges Congress to eliminate the 287(g) program and other DHS programs that permit state and local police to enforce immigration laws. The ACLU recommends the following initiatives:

  • DHS should suspend agreements between localities and ICE pending a comprehensive review of the 287(g) program;
  • Local law enforcement age should be required to collect data on all contacts with the public as a way to monitor racial profiling;
  • DHS should create a transparent and accessible complaint process for local immigration enforcement; and
  • Congress should pass the End Racial Profiling Act without exemptions for immigration enforcement.

For the ACLU testimony, 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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