Pro & Con: Should local public safety units enforce immigration laws?

By D.A. King (YES position), Atlanta Journal Constitution, October 19, 2009

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Despite absurd claims to the contrary, no one is deported for a broken taillight or not having a driver’s license. Violation of American immigration laws is the singular reason for removal.

Thwarted in the effort to convince the Obama administration to end the voluntary program, the tried and true game is to play the racial-profiling card.

Pro & Con: Should local public safety units enforce immigration laws?

Online - Monday, October 19, 2009

Print edition Tuesday October 20, 2009

YES. Laws multiply the reach of immigration authorities.

By D.A. King

Section 287(g) of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which expands the authority of local law enforcement agencies to enforce U.S. immigration laws, has proven far too successful for the powerful lobby that has taken an “amnesty again, enforcement never” stance.

In two years, more than 6,600 illegal immigrants have been turned over to federal immigration authorities in Cobb County, the first local enforcement agency in Georgia to use the 287(g) program. The program works as a force multiplier, authorizing local law enforcement to augment the reach of federal immigration authorities.

The law was signed by then-President Bill Clinton. For his transgression, he would no doubt be labeled as “anti-immigrant” — or worse — by those advocating free and open borders.

Noncitizens who have escaped capture while illegally crossing America’s borders are officially and accurately known as “illegal aliens.” By law, every illegal alien is deportable.

Despite absurd claims to the contrary, no one is deported for a broken taillight or not having a driver’s license. Violation of American immigration laws is the singular reason for removal.

Thwarted in the effort to convince the Obama administration to end the voluntary program, the tried and true game is to play the racial-profiling card.

“We are dedicated to stopping the proliferation of 287(g) Agreements between localities and federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials as well as other attempts at local enforcement of immigration laws in Georgia” is the stated objective of the ACLU’s Georgia Detention Watch.

“We will deploy every skill and tool we possess to accomplish our mission” is another admission available on the group’s Web site.

At least they are clear. There is no better measure of the effectiveness of tools used to enforce our immigration laws than the howls of opposition from the anti-enforcement crowd. The ACLU’s own hostility to 287(g) should be viewed as an unintentional but unmistakable endorsement of its effectiveness.

Plan B for the enemies of immigration enforcement is to attempt to magically rewrite the language of the law by insisting that 287(g) was aimed at a select group of illegal aliens. It wasn’t.

“I can attest that [the law] was created to let state and local law-enforcement officials help enforce all immigration laws, not a select few,” wrote Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a co-author, in a June edition of the Wall Street Journal.

For the partisans who refuse to accept Smith’s accuracy, one can always resort to actually reading the law.

“It only makes sense to remove illegal immigrants from the streets before they commit more serious crimes,” Smith added.

Smith’s point is brilliantly illustrated in a February 2009 AJC report on a trial run of 287(g) in Gwinnett County. There, in a 26-day period, more than 900 illegal immigrants were located in the county jail.

More than half had a prior brush with law enforcement — including traffic violations. New charges included murder (13), rape (15), kidnapping (11), child molestation (23) and 154 for felony drug offenses.

Not many residents believe 287(g) has “threatened public safety” in Gwinnett or in Cobb.

Having taken the pro-American position and shown the courage to stand up to the ACLU, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren is a hero to the majority of citizens who depend on all law enforcement to carry out their sworn duty.

On illegal immigration, enforcement works. The 287(g) program was a good idea in 1996 and it is a good idea today.

D.A. King is president of the Georgia-based Dustin Inman Society, which advocates for enforcement of immigration laws.

NO. Laws discriminate against immigrants and have little oversight.

By Azadeh N. Shahshahani

The Cobb County Board of Commissioners should reconsider their recent decision to renew their 287(g) agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The 287(g) program delegates immigration enforcement authority to specific local police agencies. The Cobb Sheriff’s Office is one of five Georgia agencies that has entered into an agreement with ICE to participate in enforcement of federal civil immigration laws.

Though initially intended as a measure to combat violent crime and other felonies such as gang activity and drug trafficking, 287(g) programs have in fact undermined public safety, as immigrant communities, fearful of being deported, hesitate to report crime. The Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Police Foundation have both found that participating in 287(g) programs has harmed community policing efforts.

A recent ACLU of Georgia report documents that there has been a widespread increase in fear to report crime and mistrust in law enforcement as a result of 287(g). One community member named Joanna mentioned to us that she once even put out the fire in her kitchen herself, because she was afraid to call 911.

In addition, law enforcement agencies that reallocate limited resources toward cracking down on violations such as driving without a license or lack of insurance may have scarce means left with which to combat crimes of violence and other felonies. In Cobb, immigrants disappear into detention for violations such as having a broken tail light or tinted windows on their car. In 2008, Cobb County turned over 3,180 detainees to ICE for deportation. Of those, 2,180, about 69 percent, were arrested for traffic violations.

The program has also encouraged racial profiling and human rights violations by some police acting as immigration agents. Cobb officers have misused the power granted to them under the agreement by engaging in racial profiling of Latino communities and detaining individuals in the Cobb jail for unconstitutionally prolonged time periods.

A telling example is the case of Jonathan, a Latino man who was shopping for jewelry for his girlfriend at Macy’s when he was followed by a security guard who then called the Cobb police. Jonathan was detained by the officer without being informed about the reason. He was subsequently charged with loitering and deported. The loitering charge was later dismissed by the district attorney without a hearing. His family now lives in constant fear of the “seemingly unlimited power of the police to arrest a Latino person for any or no reason at all.”

There is currently no meaningful check in place to ensure that local law enforcement do not abuse the program by intimidating and racially profiling immigrant communities. A Government Accountability Office investigation earlier this year found that ICE was not exercising proper oversight over local or state agencies. This problem is compounded in Georgia, where no state legislation bans racial profiling and mandates accountability and transparency for law enforcement.

The minor changes in the program recently announced by the Department of Homeland Security make no serious attempt at discouraging profiling or reducing its negative impact on public safety. The new program language actually takes a step backwards in the area of transparency by declaring that documents related to 287(g) are no longer public records.

The 287(g) programs waste local resources and hinder local police ability to effectively protect public safety in Cobb and other communities around the state. It is time for Cobb County to walk away from 287(g).

Azadeh N. Shahshahani is National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project director for the ACLU of Georgia.

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