Sheriffs: 287(g) Partnerships Improve Public Safety and Reduce Criminal Justice Costs

By Preston Huennekens on May 21, 2018

The 287(g) program provides local law enforcement entities the opportunity to partner with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and train local officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions. ICE currently has 78 law enforcement agencies in 20 states enrolled in the program, up from 30 at the end of the Obama administration, and they have trained and certified more than 1,822 individual officers.

Three sheriffs whose jurisdictions are 287(g)-certified took part in a panel discussion at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., last week, on the occasion of Police Week. Sheriffs Charles A. Jenkins (Frederick County, Md.), A.J. "Andy" Louderback (Jackson County, Texas), and Thomas M. Hodgson (Bristol County, Mass.) all emphatically supported the 287(g) program and agreed that the program contributed to overall efforts to keep their communities safe and secure. (See the transcript here.)

Maximizing Available Resources

A criticism sometimes offered by opponents to the program is that there is a financial burden on the participating local law enforcement agency. But the sheriffs dismissed these criticisms by suggesting that the cost of operating the program was more akin to an investment given the positive outcomes that came from its implementation. Asher stated that "the price tag is certainly an investment and the return of such, it does act as a force multiplier. It is a great investment bar none."

Hodgson remarked that "this program was probably the most effective and efficient program in being able to minimize the resources that would be extended to identify these criminals and hold them and our facilities and not let them go out and commit more crimes against the people that we made a promise to protect."

Further, he added that "this is a cost-effective program. ... [I]t is taxpayer money going toward [enforcement] being done in a more effective way. It is less costly because we are not repeatedly reinvestigating crimes and God forbid, the victimization we could have avoided."

This is a point that often is not considered by opponents of the program bemoaning its perceived costs. As the sheriffs clarified, by avoiding a pattern of constantly releasing and then re-arresting deportable repeat offenders, their communities and taxpayers conserve resources.

Enhancing Public Safety

All three sheriffs agreed that 287(g) partnerships have kept their communities safe and that the program is a welcom additional tool that their officers have at their disposal. Louderback described the program as "law enforcement agencies working together to increase public safety. That is all it is. It is a partnership. It is the ability for us to work together with all law enforcement agencies in this country for public safety and protection of the United States."

Hodgson specified that "I don't know how any one of us sits up here or anywhere in this country and says we're going to create a special class of people to be forgiven of breaking the law. ... I've never heard one law enforcement officer say 'I don't want these tools to get the bad guy off the street. I'm going to allow these victims to be exposed to high risk.'"

It is well documented that processing criminal aliens in a controlled environment within jails is far preferable to a catch-and-release system where ICE must locate and arrest their targets in public or at their dwellings and workplaces. Asher said of this fact that, "Quite frankly, the pressure of sanctuary policies not honoring detainers forces an agency to redirect our operations, redirect our resources to street work. And what that does is it opens a can of worms that we don't like to open. We are in those very communities, which happen to be the immigrant communities because they are time and again, these sheriffs will tell you that the victims of these criminal aliens are in the very immigrant communities in which they lived or in which, quite frankly, they prey upon."

Local law enforcement who are 287(g)-certified reduce the risks associated with conducting raids and at-large arrests that can endanger bystanders and arresting officers.

Challenges Facing the Program

If the 287(g) program is such a benefit to local law enforcement, why aren't jurisdictions registering in greater numbers? Asher provided an answer: "Sadly, I think we do a lot more work in dispelling bad or misinformation about immigration law," and pointed out that media coverage is often one-sided and uninformed.

She said that the program is often accused of promoting racial profiling, even though the work occurs within jails, where everyone, regardless of race, is booked through the system with information identifying their place of birth and citizenship. There have been no substantiated incidents of racial profiling or abuse of authority occurring under a 287(g) partnership. ICE's internal monitoring office, the Office of Professional Responsibility, performs periodic assessments of each program to ensure that conduct is appropriate.

It will take further efforts, such as this discussion with supportive sheriffs, to show the benefits of the program and encourage more jurisdictions to consider entering into that partnership with ICE. Those supportive sheriffs must dispel negative notions of 287(g), such as when Jenkins defended the program by saying "It has proven to be a very effective partnership ... keeping criminals off the street of our county and in essence reducing crime. ... It's no different than working with the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, as we do every single day."


ICE describes the 287(g) program succinctly on its website: "by working together, local and federal officers can better identify and remove criminal aliens — a tremendous benefit to public safety."

The testimony of the sheriffs on the panel helps illustrate the benefits that implementing a 287(g) agreement can have on a community. All three sheriffs described the program as beneficial, helpful, and effective. As more localities notice the positive effects of partnering with ICE, they may elect to enroll in 287(g) instead of adopting dangerous sanctuary policies.

(For more, see the Center's comprehensive study of the 287(g) program.)