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Lawmakers call to defund immigration cooperation program

They want all funding for the ICE 287(g) program to be cut in the fiscal 2022 spending bill

Immigrant advocates march through the streets of New York on Feb. 6.
Immigrant advocates march through the streets of New York on Feb. 6. (Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

More than two dozen Democrats called on House appropriation leaders to slash funding for a divisive government program that facilitates collaboration between local law enforcement officials and federal immigration authorities.

Led by Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., the lawmakers warned that continued funding of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program, known as the 287(g) program, will undermine trust in law enforcement within immigrant communities, discouraging undocumented immigrants from calling the police for help or reporting crimes.

“A degradation in community trust permits more crime to occur and endangers law enforcement officials,” they wrote in the April 30 letter, first obtained by CQ Roll Call.

[Biden administration to reunite first group of migrant families]

The lawmakers called on Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., who chairs the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., the panel’s ranking member, to ensure that all funding for the program be “zeroed out” in the fiscal 2022 spending bill.

The lawmakers also pointed to a January government watchdog report, which concluded that while ICE had expanded the program across the country, the Homeland Security agency failed to set performance goals and measure the program’s success.

ICE officials told the Government Accountability Office they “do not track or measure the results of the prior 287(g) program performance measures and evaluate trends over time,” according to the report.

House lawmakers wrote that in light of these findings, on top of the “continued degradation in public trust of local law enforcement,” it “would be irresponsible for the federal government to continue funding this program.”

The expansion of the 287(g) program stems from an executive order former President Donald Trump signed in January 2017, aiming to ramp up immigration enforcement within the U.S. and crack down on so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, which limit local cooperation with ICE.

In January 2017, ICE had 35 cooperation agreements with localities; by the end of September 2020, it had expanded to 150 such deals, according to the GAO.

Funding for the program, however, remained relatively consistent over the years, hovering below $25 million annually each year since 2015.

Requests for comments to Roybal-Allard and Fleischmann were not immediately returned. 

Under 287(g) agreements, local officers may act as immigration agents, and law enforcement agencies may honor ICE detainers, or requests by ICE to hold an arrested individual for an unrelated reason past their release date so that immigration agents can pick them up.

These detainers raised constitutional concerns after ICE mistakenly flagged an American citizen as an undocumented immigrant and issued a detainer against him after he was arrested in Los Angeles.

After the U.S. citizen brought a legal challenge under the Fourth Amendment, which protects people against unlawful detention, a federal appeals court ruled last year that detainer requests must be reviewed promptly by a neutral arbitrator to ensure there is probable cause to issue it.

The Biden administration has indicated it wants to shift the immigration priorities established by its predecessor, including by narrowing enforcement to immigrants who have committed serious crimes or who threaten U.S. national security.

President Joe Biden recently tapped Ed Gonzalez, the Harris County, Texas, sheriff in Houston to lead ICE. During his tenure, Gonzalez withdrew the county from ICE’s 287(g) program.

“Diverting valuable law enforcement resources away from public safety threats would drive undocumented families further into the shadows & damage our community safety,” Gonzales wrote on Twitter in 2019.

Pushback against the 287(g) program has already gained some traction on Capitol Hill. Last month, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., along with Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., put forth legislation to rescind the government’s legal authority to enter into 287(g) contracts.

Chris Cioffi contributed to this report.

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