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US House puts immigration program under review

287(g) agreements don’t specify purpose, official says

POSTED: March 4, 2009 11:09 p.m.

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Federal immigration officials are reviewing their agreements with local law enforcement agencies like the Hall County Sheriff’s Office with an eye toward measuring the success of the program known as 287(g), a homeland security administrator told a congressional committee Wednesday.

The program authorizes local law enforcement to check the immigration status of arrestees and refer those in the country illegally to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for deportation proceedings.

The Hall County Sheriff’s Office, one of only 67 law enforcement agencies in the nation approved for 287(g), has referred 1,433 illegal immigrants to ICE since starting the program last April.

During a Wednesday hearing of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee, an official with the Government Accountability Office told lawmakers that signed agreements between federal officials and local law enforcement agencies have not clearly laid out the purpose of the program: to address serious crimes like drug trafficking and violent offenses committed by illegal immigrants.

“In the absence of a clear objective, at least four of 29 programs we reviewed used 287(g) authority to process individuals for minor crimes such as speeding or carrying open containers of alcohol, which is contrary to what ICE said is the program objective,” said Richard Stana, director of homeland security and justice issues for the GAO.

William Riley, the acting director of ICE’s office of state and local coordination, said the only data the agency collects is how many officers go through training for the program and how many detainees are turned over to ICE custody. The agency does not track the types of criminal offenses that lead to deportation.

About 34,000 of 43,000 illegal immigrants referred to ICE through the 287(g) program were deported in fiscal year 2008, officials said. There are an estimated 10 million to 12 million people living in the country illegally.

Riley said new Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in January “issued an action directive to ICE for a full review of the 287(g) program. Part of that is for us to start getting performance measures by which we can judge the success of all the programs we have in place.”

Hall County’s policy is to refer to ICE any illegal immigrant booked at the Hall County jail, regardless of the charge. In the most controversial local case, four illegal immigrants arrested by a state Department of Natural Resources officer for fishing without a license were deported.

Hall Sheriff Steve Cronic, who watched a portion of the broadcast of Wednesday’s hearing, said his department’s agreement with ICE gives federal agents the discretion on which detainees they pick up for due process hearings and who they decline to process.

“I think it would be improper for any local law enforcement agency to make determination,” based on the charge, Cronic said.

Cronic said his agency has measurable results to show the program has been successful.

“We’ve seen a reduction in the volume of drugs coming into this county, a reduction in active gang members and a reduction in homicides,” Cronic said.

Cronic said a review of the program was to be expected with a change in presidential administrations.

“We anticipated some changes in the way things are done,” Cronic said. “This hearing appears to be the first step in changing the approach to immigration enforcement. We’ll just have to wait and see what direction they decide to take.”



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