Study Shows 287(g) Program Fails to Prioritize Serious Criminals

This week the Migration Policy Institute released a new study on ICE’s 287(g) program, Delegation and Divergence: A Study of 287(g) State and Local Immigration Enforcement. The study, which assesses the implementation, enforcement outcomes, costs, community impacts of the program generally, and provides an in-depth study in seven jurisdictions: Cobb County, GA; Frederick County, MD; Gwinnett County, GA; Los Angeles County, CA; Prince William County, VA; Las Vegas, NV; and the state of Colorado, found that 287(g) program is not living up to its promise. In fact, the study finds that ICE’s allows jurisdictions to “operate the 287(g) program in fundamentally different ways across the country.”


Among the many issues analyzed in the report, MPI questioned whether local police are using the 287(g) program to prioritize serious criminals who pose a threat to the community or whether they are using the program to remove as many undocumented immigrants as possible. Not surprisingly, MPI found that nationally, the program is not targeted toward serious offenders. Only about half of the program activity involves people who have committed felonies or other serious crimes (Levels 1 and 2). The other half is people who committed misdemeanors or traffic offenses.

At the local level, some jurisdictions’ programs are highly “targeted” toward serious offenders, but others are “universal”—designed to identify and deport as many undocumented immigrants as possible. Considering that minor traffic violations can result in arrest and deportation, these universal models result in fear, distrust of police, the avoidance of public spaces and changed driving patterns among immigrant communities.

These universal models are concentrated in the Southeastern states which have seen rapid growth in their foreign-born populations. These states have passed anti-immigrant legislation and have pressured the police to enforce federal immigration laws. Georgia, for example, passed laws encouraging counties to adopt the 287(g) program and mandating jail time for driving without a license. In Cobb County, GA, traffic offenders now account for nearly 70% of 287(g) detainers. In fact, Frederick, Cobb, and Gwinnett counties follow the universal model and place detainers on virtually every potentially removable immigrant they identify, according to the study.

So how did this happen? Similar to other accounts, MPI found that the federal government does not impose significant federal oversight over priority setting and program goals, which is one factor that allows for implementation of a universal model. Furthermore, the changes made to the 287(g) MOA in 2009 have not had an impact on priority setting, implementation, outcomes, or community impact. That means that 287(g) programs’ priorities are largely shaped by political pressures.

According to the report:

In sum, the statutory language of section 287(g), the Obama administration’s statements and guidelines, and ICE’s implementation practices allow jurisdictions to operate the 287(g) program in fundamentally different ways across the country. We find that the 287(g) program has had more significant negative impacts on immigrant communities in jurisdictions where a universal model is used and traffic offenders comprise a large share of persons channeled through the program than in targeted jurisdictions.

MPI also found that some jurisdictions experienced declines in its noncitizen population after implementation of a 287(g) program. Frederick County, MD experienced a 61% decline, while Prince William County, VA saw a 23% decrease. Neighboring counties experienced a corresponding increase in their noncitizen populations.

The report also contains a list of recommendations to improve the 287(g) program, which include adopting a post-conviction policy so that detainers will only be issued after an immigrant is convicted of a crime, prioritizing noncitizens convicted of Level 1 crimes, conducting a cost-benefit analysis of the 287(g) program to determine whether the program should be expanded, and improved dialogue between ICE field offices and local communities. Let’s just hope that the Obama Administration and local jurisdictions take MPI’s report and recommendations seriously.

Photo by ice.gov.

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