Nevada Avoids Pitfalls of ICE Deputized Detention of Illegal Immigrants

Since 1996, the enforcement of United States immigration law has been shared between federal agents and state/local authorities under the 287(g) program of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department was the first in Nevada to join the program, in October 2008. Just this month, the city of Mesquite decided not to join the 287(g) program.

ICE asserts that, “[t]errorism and criminal activity are most effectively combated through a multi-agency/multi-authority approach that encompasses federal, state and local resources, skills and expertise.” This is likely a sound rationale for the program. Unfortunately, under the Bush Administration this common-sense arrangement to share power and responsibility devolved into the widespread and indiscriminate “deputization” of sheriffs departments in America’s rural border areas, sometimes resulting in the empowerment of zealots like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

As the New York Times writes, “The Bush administration…outsourced the job to state, local and private jailers, with terrible results: inadequate supervision, appalling conditions, injuries and deaths.” This delegation of power has coincided with a tripling in immigrant detentions, but critics question whether these detentions are all appropriate. Arpaio has been accused of “profiling” people of Latino appearance, stopping them for minor traffic violations as a means to sniff out illegal immigrants. As the ranks of detainees have swelled, detention centers have been overwhelmed and abuse has flourished.

The New York Times warns that, “rather than broadening the reach of law enforcement, using local police can cause immigrant crime victims to fear the police and divert the police from fighting crime.” And the Obama Administration has shown its own reticence about the 287(g) program, seeking to centralize some aspects of detention and actually stripping Arpaio of his abused authority.

A defiant Arpaio plans (as of this morning) to move forward with his 12th “Crime Sweep,” in which his deputies target “area[s] known to contain a concentration of illegal aliens” and use traits such as “evasive, nervous, or erratic behavior; dress or speech indicating foreign citizenship” as cause to inspect the immigration status of individuals in those areas. Those detained in Arpaio’s sweep, planned for today, will first seek to turn detainees over to ICE and (if denied) will “drive them to the border and hand them over to the Border Patrol.”

In assessing the value of the 287(g) program, we must weigh the potential gains for law enforcement and counter-terrorism against the real and palpable challenges these procedures present to individual liberties. And we must say that racial profiling and the wrongful detention of legal residents and U.S. citizens is unacceptable. Reevaluating the 287(g) program is yet another vital dimension of immigration reform.

The New York Times puts it best:

“Programs like 287(g) rest on the dishonest premise that illegal immigrants are a vast criminal threat. But only a small percentage are dangerous felons. The vast majority are those whom President Obama has vowed to help get right with the law, by paying fines and earning citizenship. Treating the majority of illegal immigrants as potential Americans, not a criminal horde, is the right response to the problem.”

If you need assistance for someone who has been detained, or for help from an experienced immigration lawyer, please contact us.

One Response to “Nevada Avoids Pitfalls of ICE Deputized Detention of Illegal Immigrants”

  1. […] we have reported previously, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department opted into a 287(g) partnership in 2008; last year, the town of Mesquite, Nevada declined to […]

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