Myths about LA County's Successful 287(g) Program

By Jessica M. Vaughan on May 11, 2015

On Tuesday, May 12, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is set to vote on a proposal to end its longstanding and successful 287(g) partnership with ICE, which is one of the largest in the country. Activists for illegal aliens are pulling out all the stops to pressure the board members to cancel the program and have sent a barrage of emails and phone calls in favor of fewer criminal alien deportations.

Under the agreement, county jail officers work together with ICE to screen offenders when they are booked out of jail after serving their sentence (known as a "post-conviction" model). With the county jail officers as a force multiplier since 2005, ICE has been able to remove tens of thousands more criminal aliens than otherwise would have been possible without the help, at no extra cost to ICE.

The anti-enforcement pressure groups are relying on a set of myths and falsehoods about the Los Angeles 287(g) program and immigration enforcement in general to persuade the county board to end its partnership with ICE:

1. "287(g) is redundant or duplicative of other ICE Programs."

False. The 287(g) program was created at the request of members of the California congressional delegation and California law enforcement agencies that wanted to institutionalize federal-local cooperation and empower local law enforcement agencies to assist the overwhelmed federal immigration agencies, especially with identifying and removing criminal non-citizens from the community. It does not duplicate other programs, but actually picks up where programs like Secure Communities/Priority Enforcement Program (SC/PEP) leave off. (See this report.) For example, SC/PEP uses fingerprints to identify offenders at the time they are booked into jail. But SC/PEP can only identify those non-citizens who already have a record with the government. In contrast, the 287(g) program relies on trained officer interviews and research rather than automated database checks. These officers can detect fraud and imposters, and also can detect those offenders who arrived in the country illegally and do not have a record or previous encounter with the government. Some sheriffs that participate in 287(g) report that about half of the non-citizens arrested in their jurisdiction were illegal arrivals with no fingerprint records who could not be identified through SC/PEP, but who could be identified by trained 287(g) officers.

2. "287(g) increases county 'liability.'"

False. Local officers with 287(g) enforcement authority have protection from liability and have immunity from lawsuits when they are carrying out their duties lawfully. Paragraph 8 of Section 287(g) states:

(8) An officer or employee of a State or political subdivision of a State acting color of authority under this subsection, or any agreement entered into under this subsection, shall be considered to be acting under color of Federal authority for purposes of determining the liability, and immunity from suit, of the officer or employee in a civil action brought under Federal or State law.

No such explicit immunity is available for officers involved with ICE's PEP program, although it should be possible for the county to negotiate protocols and liability provisions with ICE.

In addition, a fundamental part of the 287(g) program is the extensive training provided to the participating officers. According to the periodic audits conducted by ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility, the Los Angeles County 287(g) officers have an exemplary record of professionalism and respect for civil liberties.

3. "287(g) is costly."

False. Although the county government is covering the cost of the personnel who perform 287(g) functions, ultimately this up-front investment reaps major criminal justice program savings (and spares future victims). This is because the county 287(g) officers are able to process criminal offenders who otherwise would be released by ICE due to resource constraints. When non-citizen criminal offenders are removed instead of released back into Los Angeles neighborhoods, the county can avoid future problems and costs for recidivists (who may be as many as half the offenders). The county saves on probation and parole and other forms of supervision, avoids future prosecutions and incarceration, and spares future victims. According to one 287(g) program supervisor, for every two to three hours spent processing an offender, the county saves about $20,000 in future criminal justice costs.

4. "287(g) and any cooperation with ICE erodes trust in local authorities."

False. There is no evidence whatsoever from police statistics, academic research, or experience that this program, or any cooperative immigration enforcement efforts, erodes immigrant community trust or causes immigrants to stop reporting crimes. On the contrary, when immigration laws are enforced, the public has more confidence that they will be protected from those who prey on law-abiding people in the community.

No reputable studies or surveys of crime victims, immigrants, or the general population have found that crime reporting suffers when local police or sheriffs assist in immigration enforcement. One widely cited study from University of Illinois urban planning researchers found that when immigrants were asked a hypothetical question about whether they would report a victimization to police if it happened, due to fear of being asked about immigration status, a majority of illegal immigrants replied that they would refrain from reporting the crime. However, the annual Bureau of Justice Statistics survey of actual crime victims and academic surveys by respected criminologists of actual crime victims report different results. These surveys indicate that immigrants are not significantly less likely to report crimes; in fact Hispanic females are often more likely to report crimes than the general population. If immigrants do not report crimes, it is usually because of language or cultural barriers, not fear of immigration enforcement.

Law enforcement agency data corroborate that there is no "chilling effect" on crime reporting due to immigration enforcement in general or the 287(g) program in particular. Los Angeles is no exception. An examination of precinct level data on calls for service to the Los Angeles Police Department showed no disproportionate decline in crime reporting in neighborhoods with large concentrations of immigrants after the implementation of stepped up immigration enforcement. Crime reporting rates in Los Angeles are determined by the amount of crime, not demographic factors. Further, most 287(g) program managers report that immigrants in the community often feel more comfortable reporting crimes because of robust community outreach requirements that communicate to the public that victims and witnesses are not targets of immigration enforcement. For more on studies debunking the "chilling effect" myth see this report.

5. "The 287(g) program sweeps up mostly harmless law abiding immigrants, not criminals."

False. A 2010 analysis of enforcement actions taken by the Los Angeles County 287(g) program found that 95 percent of the offenders targeted were felons, had multiple misdemeanor convictions, or serious traffic offenses such as hit and run or drunk driving. The remaining 5 percent (55 offenders out of 2,874 targeted in one year) typically had multiple immigration violations, such as prior deportations. In addition, the criminality level breakdown of offenders processed under the Los Angeles County 287(g) programs is consistent with the criminality level breakdown of all offenders processed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department — indicating that 287(g) is not profiling non-citizens or targeting a disproportionate number of "minor" criminals.

A vote by the board members to end this effective program would be a momentous shift in priorities for the board away from protecting the public safety of all county residents (citizen and immigrant alike) in favor of harboring criminal aliens to appease illegal alien pressure groups.