State Immigration Law Training and Enforcement Programs Enhance Homeland Security and Public Safety

Testimony before the Nevada Commission on Homeland Security

By Jessica M. Vaughan on December 5, 2007

Presentation of
Jessica M. Vaughan
Senior Policy Analyst
Center for Immigration Studies
Washington, DC

for the
Nevada Commission on Homeland Security
December 5, 2007
Las Vegas, Nevada


Nevada’s adoption of a carefully thought out program of immigration law training and enforcement for state law enforcement agencies will contribute significantly to homeland security and enhance public safety for all its residents. Due to geography, the presence of a number of high-profile sites, and a history of significant crime problems with a nexus to illegal immigration, Nevada is an ideal candidate for participation in the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) program. This program provides advanced training in immigration law for selected state law enforcement officers, and enables trained officers, under the supervision of ICE, to identify, detain and begin the removal process for certain illegal aliens who come into contact with law enforcement. While a total of 34 jurisdictions have implemented 287(g) programs, there are three state programs in particular (Alabama, Colorado, and Florida) that seem best suited to Nevada’s situation and homeland security objectives. In addition, the state should take further steps to achieve these objectives, such as adoption of state anti-smuggling and document/identity fraud laws; establishment of document verification protocols for licensing and other state benefits; mandatory screening for status of incarcerated foreign-born individuals; uniform state-wide policies on handling foreign-born encountered by police; universal immigration law training for law enforcement agencies; and deterrence of illegal employment.

I. Immigration-related homeland security and public safety concerns in Nevada

1. Presence of high-profile or homeland security-sensitive targets
2. Proximity to illegal immigration gateway states of California and Arizona
3. Proximity to “sanctuary states” of Oregon and Utah
4. Two major interstate highways – smuggling routes
5. Presence of transnational crime organizations; e.g. MS-13 and other violent gangs
6. Sizable illegal alien population (150,000-200,000)

II. What is the 287(g) program?

This program was created in 1996 to enable specially-trained state and local law enforcement officers to contribute to the enforcement of immigration law in their communities as part of their public safety mission, and to serve as a force multiplier for federal authorities, who face severe limitations of resources and staff relative to the magnitude of the illegal immigration problem.

See Attachment 1 for further details (ICE summary of 287(g) issues).

III. Types of 287(g) programs

There are three main types of 287(g) programs: Correctional, Task Force, and State Patrol. All can be effective; the latter two are most relevant to state homeland security objectives. Programs implemented by the states of Florida, Alabama, and Colorado are the most promising models for Nevada.

A. Florida – The Florida program was launched soon after 9/11 to enable the newly-formed domestic security task forces to incorporate immigration law enforcement tools into their security-related investigations.

  • 2 officers trained
  • Focus is on preventing a terrorist attack
  • Used in investigation of foreign nationals suspected of involvement in security-related activity working in critical infrastructure or sensitive areas
  • Key benefit: direct access to the ICE databases, which enables officers to accurately determine the status of foreign nationals who are subjects of their investigations
  • Examples of arrests: dozens of individuals who were surveilling sensitive locations and eployed at airports and nuclear power plants

B. Alabama – Alabama requested the training and delegation of authority in order to address increasing document fraud in the driver’s licensing process and lack of ICE coverage in the state.

  • 56 troopers trained-- assigned to the DMV, highway patrol, and investigations
  • 287(g)-trained officers serve as “immigration crime first responders,” and permitting ICE to focus its limited resources on the most complex and serious cases
  • Community outreach was a priority, to explain purpose of program and how it would be used on behalf of public safety and to respond to criminal activity, not routine immigration law enforcement
  • Attention to document and id fraud has enabled Alabama to drastically reduce security vulnerabilities in licensing and have one of the most secure licenses in the nation
  • Aliens arrested on federal and state charges including rape, drug trafficking, id fraud, firearms.

See Attachment 2 for more detail (Statement of J. Haran Lowe, Jr., Ala. Asst. Attorney General).

C. Colorado – The impetus for Colorado’s program came after a string of four serious vehicle accidents involving alien smuggling on Colorado highways that occurred within a 24-hour period, one of which happened to be observed by a state legislator participating in a ride-along with a Colorado trooper. Over 100 illegal aliens were taken into custody in those four incidents.

  • 22 state troopers trained, forming the new Immigration Enforcement Unit
  • Emphasis is on highway safety and disrupting alien smugglers who endanger the lives of others on the road. “We are not the state version of ICE,” says unit Capt. Jon Barba.
  • Colorado State Patrol encounters over 500 illegal aliens/week, or more than 26,000/year
  • Key benefit is ability to accurately identify certain aliens encountered on traffic patrol, so as to prevent the release of individuals of national security interest, wanted criminals, imposters, human smugglers, and serial immigration violators. Only those who have displayed unsafe or suspicious behavior are screened, e.g. DUI, unsafe vehicles, speeders, revoked licenses.
  • In the first 4 months, 416 foreign-born individuals were processed, including 75 criminals, 12 aggravated felons, 2 child molesters, and many with prior immigration offenses. A total of 19 smuggling cases have been brought, including 3 federal cases.

IV. Common Concerns

A. Cost – Training and equipment are provided by ICE free of charge, but LEAs must cover cost of salaries and to backfill staff while in training. Participation in the program might increase short-term costs as the number of detained aliens increases, but result in long-term savings and improved security and public safety, as criminal aliens are transferred to federal custody and put on the path to removal, rather than being released to state supervision or back into the community. Arizona reports that it has saved nearly $3 million since 2005 with their correctional 287(g) program.

B. State LEAs don’t have time to take on more responsibilities – 287(g) training and delegation of authority are additional tools to be used only in the course of existing duties and locally-established priorities. Many jurisdictions have found that it actually saves officers’ time by enabling them to initiate status determination and/or removal process without waiting for ICE.

C. Racial profiling – No reports of this to date. Racial profiling is not tolerated and expressly forbidden under the MOA with ICE. The training includes sections on avoiding racial profiling, on rights of immigrants, consular notification, and cultural sensitivity. Trained officers will be less likely to make procedural mistakes.

D. The “chilling effect” on reporting crime – While this has not occurred in any 287(g) jurisdictions, community outreach is still important to reassure immigrant advocates and communities that victims and witnesses of crimes will not be targets of immigration law enforcement.

E. ICE is slow to deliver training and support – There are about 60 jurisdictions on the waiting list for 287(g), and ICE has indicated that it may not support all requests. There is currently a 2-year wait for training classes to begin. Requesting agencies should be prepared to articulate and document clearly their need and readiness and demonstrate how their request aligns with ICE mission priorities. There are a number of steps that can be taken while waiting for ICE to respond (see below).

V. Additional Recommendations/Best Practices

A. Adoption of state laws to address homeland security and immigration-related crime – Some states have enacted laws against document and identification fraud, alien smuggling and human trafficking, criminal gang activity, and illegal employment (Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Virginia).

B. Establish protocols for the verification of identification documents presented for driver and non-driver ids, public benefits, business licensing, birth and marriage certificates, insurance, vehicle registration, financial services, and any other state-regulated process (as in Alabama, Utah, Rhode Island, Georgia).

C. Mandatory screening for immigration status of foreign-born individuals who are incarcerated in jails and prisons or under investigation – Statistics compiled from several jurisdictions that have been able to determine the status of foreign-born inmates indicate that a significant share of the incarcerated population (25 to 54%) are illegal aliens (see Attachment 3). These individuals should be processed for removal after completing their sentences rather than released back into the community (a recent DOJ study found that 70% of criminal aliens released from local jails went on to re-offend). Screening can be accomplished by ICE agents assigned to the jails (the Criminal Alien Program), through a correctional 287(g) agreement, or through training in use of the ICE Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC), which takes queries and calls from LEAs around the nation, 24/7.

D. Uniform state-wide policies on police handling of foreign nationals – Nevada should attempt to ensure that all police departments in the state are consistent in how they deal with foreign-born individuals. All law enforcement officers have inherent authority to arrest non-citizens they encounter who have criminal or civil immigration law violations, and officers must not be prohibited from attempting to determine status or from contacting ICE in the context of criminal investigations. In addition, all jurisdictions should have policies in place to ensure that they respond to federal immigration warrants, both administrative and criminal (the term “administrative” can be misleading; many individuals with violent criminal histories are subjects of administrative immigration warrants).

E. Universal immigration law training for all LEAs – Not all jurisdictions need 287(g) but all officers need basic awareness of immigration law, including how to determine status, documents, terrorism indicators, immigrant rights, how to use the LESC, etc. A number of states have provided one-day basic training to LEAs (Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama). State homeland security grants from DHS and local law enforcement block grants from DOJ can be used for this purpose. Candidates for this training include: counterterrorism task forces, motor vehicle departments, highway patrol, fugitive task forces, gang and drug investigators, and sheriffs.

F. Prevent illegal employment – Florida’s experience and ICE operations have demonstrated that illegal aliens and other suspicious individuals frequently have been able to obtain employment at critical infrastructure and security-sensitive sites using bogus documents. Nevada should establish some minimum level of mandatory screening for employment authorization, whether for all state agencies, contractors and grantees (Missouri, Oklahoma, Idaho, Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina,); or for employers associated with security-sensitive sites or functions; or ideally for all employers (Arizona). Status of new hires should be verified using the DHS E-Verify program, and payrolls should be audited on a regular basis using the Social Security Administration program SSNVS.

Respectfully submitted by,

Jessica M. Vaughan
Senior Policy Analyst
Center for Immigration Studies
1522 K Street, NW Suite 820
Washington, DC 20005

Jessica M. Vaughan is Senior Policy Analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, DC-based research institute. She has been with the Center since 1992, and her areas of expertise include visa programs, immigration benefits and immigration law enforcement. Prior to joining the Center, Mrs. Vaughan was a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department, where she served in consular and administrative posts in U.S. embassies overseas. Her articles have appeared in major newspapers and other outlets, and can be found at She has testified before Congress several times and is frequently cited in news media reports on immigration, including on NPR, CNN and PBS.