When Congress failed last year to pass a bloated, wrong-headed immigration
and border security bill, few expected the legislators to tackle these
contentious issues again any time soon. Nevertheless, Americans who want
serious reforms expected that, at the very least, Congress would not make
Remarkably, a measure in the House version of the Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) appropriations bill does exactly that by hamstringing the
"287g" program, one of the department's most effective initiatives
promoting federal, state, and local cooperation in enforcing immigration laws.
The bill cuts funds for any enforcement efforts other than identifying
illegal aliens in state and local prisons, jails, and correctional facilities.
State and local governments, however, have demonstrated an increased interest
in cooperating with DHS regarding a number of law enforcement activities,
including counter terrorism investigations. Subsequently, congressional
interference that overly restricts 287g is nonsensical. Congress should restore
full funding to the program without any limitations.
Enforcement Is Important
Any effective solution for reducing illegal border crossings and the unlawful
population in the United States must address all aspects of the problem:
internal enforcement of immigration laws, border security, and the need to
create sufficient legal opportunities to help U.S. employers get the workforce
they need to grow the economy. Internal enforcement is essential for reducing
and deterring the flood of illegal entrants into the United States, as well as
for making the challenge of securing America's borders affordable and
The federal enforcement agencies lack the capacity to aggressively pursue
all immigration violations that represent serious criminal and national
security threats, much less effectively deter any who wish to defy U.S.
immigration laws. DHS does not even have enough resources to deport criminal
aliens released from prisons. Furthermore, effective domestic counterterrorism
operations and interstate criminal investigations require close cooperation of
federal, state, and local investigators.
Establishing Effective Partnerships
Authorized under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the
287g program allows DHS and state and local governments to enter into
assistance compacts. Both sides must agree on the scope and intent of the
program before it is implemented, which gives states and local communities the
flexibility to shape the programs to meet their needs. State and local law
officers governed by a §287(g) agreement must receive adequate training and
operate under the direction of federal authorities. In return, they receive full
federal authority to enforce immigration law, thereby shifting liability to the
federal government and providing the officers with additional immunity when
enforcing federal laws.
Five years ago only two states (Florida and Alabama) participated in the program.
Today, DHS has over 50 partnerships, and more are on the waiting list. The
department has established an office in Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) to manage the program and created a suite of other partnership
initiatives, called ICE Access, to compliment the program.
Congressional Meddling Must Stop
Even as the program's successes have begun garnering national attention, the
House version of the annual appropriations cuts funding for any cooperation
outside of penal facilities. Under this revision, Florida, for example, which
uses the authority for agents assigned to federal Joint Terrorism Task forces,
will lose the investigative and arrest authorities that their agents employ for
counter terrorism cases.
Restricting funding is likely the first step in any attempt to eliminate the
program altogether. Yet given the success of the program, the congressional
prohibition makes no sense. Congress should fully fund the 287g program and
allow federal and state authorities to shape assistance compacts in a manner
that best suits the needs of both.