DHS Task Force Seeks Weaker 287(g)

By Jon Feere and Jon Feere on October 2, 2009

In June, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced the formation of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) Southwest Border Task Force. Secretary Napolitano explained:

"I have asked this group to present me with concrete recommendations to address the complex challenges we face in this region, and their collective expertise will be a critical asset as we work to secure the border while facilitating legal travel and trade."

Specifically, Napolitano asked the 20-member group of "law enforcement, elected officials and national security experts" to focus on two challenges: (1) ensuring rigorous inspections processes at ports of entry while facilitating commerce, and (2) assessing the practical consequences of border violence and DHS's response to communities along the Southwest border.

In its first report, the task force -- which counts the National Council of La Raza's board chair among its national security experts -- has recommended scaling back the successful immigration enforcement program known as 287(g).

In a recent Center for Immigration Studies Memorandum, I analyzed some of the changes to the 287(g) program already implemented by the Obama administration. It appears that the new 287(g) agreements police agencies must sign (Memoranda of Agreement) now operate to administratively limit the scope of the program. Some speculate that the administration's long-term plan is to turn 287(g) into a program that only exists to identify illegal aliens already booked in jails. This would change the program from a preventative, proactive enforcement tool into a post-incident investigation tool.

As Rep. Chuck Grassley, a principle author of 287(g) explained in a letter to Napolitano this summer:

"I'm afraid that the Department will view all cooperative agreements as a one-size-fits-all approach while in the past, each agreement has been tailored to the community. In fact, since its inception, we had three models of 287(g) agreements – patrol, task force, and jail based. Your Department seems to be eliminating the patrol model and moving only into jails where aliens are already in custody. If proper training and adequate oversight are in place, why eliminate the patrol model? If you truly support this program, I would think you'd want to make the program more flexible for local law enforcement agencies."

Almost on cue, Napolitano's border task force is now pushing for these very changes. According to media reports, the task force said that 287(g) "should be limited to identifying illegal immigrants in state prisons and county jails and exclude any efforts to track them down outside of criminal investigations." This would be a step backwards for 287(g) and for public safety.

This development comes on the heels of more troubling news: two Massachusetts police agencies are no longer participating in 287(g). Framingham Police Chief Steven Carl withdrew from the program saying: "It doesn't benefit the police department to engage in deportation and immigration enforcement. We're done. I told them to come get the computers."

At the same time, the Barnstable County sheriff's department is no longer moving forward with the program after federal officials pulled the rug out from beneath them. Despite spending time and money to train 12 of their sheriffs, the program never got off the ground. As Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings explained: "They [DHS] told us that they were going in a different direction. They said they weren't going to operate the program [here] any longer. They may be back sometime in the future."

Federal administrators of the 287(g) program seem to be limiting the reach of the program on a number of fronts. But the changes taking place are not a benefit to anyone other than those violating our laws.