by Matt Saldaña
A joint study by the UNC Law School and the ACLU of North Carolina, released today, has found the federal 287(g) program to be overly costly; riddled with Constitutional and state law violations; and "an ineffective means of immigration enforcement." In particular, the study found that, instead of targeting violent criminals, law enforcement agencies participating in 287(g)--which deputizes local officers to act as federal immigration agents--have sought to "purge towns and cities of 'unwelcome' immigrants" by racially profiling Latinos at traffic stops, and in pre-textual detentions and arrests. This Constitutional violation, the study found, has the counterproductive effect of marginalizing a vulnerable population, encouraging further harassment and civil rights violations, and discouraging the reporting of actual crimes.
Furthermore, the federal program--which the City of Durham, and Alamance, Mecklenburg, Wake, and four other North Carolina counties have joined--lacks proper oversight, transparency, and guidelines for state and federal funding, the study found. For example, in 2007, the North Carolina State legislature gave $750,000 to the North Carolina Sheriff's Association for an immigration training project. Other than travel reimbursements, the allocation provided "no language or standards that regulate or provide for oversight or monitoring as to how the money should be spent or how agencies are accountable for the expenditure of these funds." The NCSA used some of the money to participate in 287(g) programs, without review by the Governor's Crime Commission, as has been standard procedure for state funding.
The study found that such lack of oversight and transparency has led, in part, to poor leadership and misinformation by state agencies entrusted with pursuing immigration enforcement strategy. In 2007, NCSA adopted a resolution that "perpetuates many myths and misinformation about immigration populations," the study found. In addition to calling for a reduction to immigrant populations--both legal and illegal--the resolution included unsubstantiated claims that terrorists were crosing the U.S.-Mexico border, and that "illegal alien invaders" (the resolution's term for illegal immigrants) drain public resources, and don't pay taxes, none of which has been credibly proven.
The study focused on Alamance County's Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Department of Homeland Security, finding the terms of the agreement to be "often vague and confusing, with both parties often in noncompliance." Contractual failures, which go unpunished, include insufficient officer training and supervision, a lack of transparency with the media and public, and a failure to notify people who feel they have been aggrieved by the process, as required. Furthermore, counties deputized to process illegal immigrants who are arrested for other crimes, but not arrest them in the field for immigration violations--the majority of North Carolina participants--have increasingly blurred the line of their deputized powers to arrest Latinos presumed to be illegal immigrants, the study found. In Alamance and Mecklenburg Counties, the study found, the vast majority of illegal immigrants stopped by 287(g) officers are arrested for traffic offenses. Because the NC REAL ID Act does not permit illegal immigrants to obtain driver's licenses, these traffic offenses become criminal offenses by default, and ultimately lead to deportation for a moving traffic violation. This trend is a gross misinterpretation of the 287(g)'s stated intention to remove undocumented immigrants convicted of "violent crimes, human smuggling, gang/organized crime activity, sexual-related offenses, narcotics smuggling and money laundering."
The UNC/ACLU study suggests that all current 287(g) programs in North Carolina be reevaluated and, if necessary, re-implemented in order to permit law enforcement agencies to process only those illegal immigrants convicted of felonies. However, as the program stands, 287(g) is "too problematic, too costly, and too difficult to implement."