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ACLU urges end to some local immigration enforcement deals

Group highlights DHS cooperation agreements with local agencies that have records of civil rights violations

The ACLU asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, seen here testifying in Congress in May, to terminate cooperation agreements with some local agencies.
The ACLU asked Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, seen here testifying in Congress in May, to terminate cooperation agreements with some local agencies. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The American Civil Liberties Union urged federal immigration authorities on Tuesday to end dozens of cooperation agreements with local law enforcement agencies that the group identified as having the worst records of civil rights violations, bad jails or prisons and other factors.

In a letter first obtained by CQ Roll Call, Kary Moss, the ACLU’s acting national political director, called on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to terminate so-called 287(g) agreements with 54 local law enforcement agencies, or about a third of all agreements.

These 287(g) agreements allow local police officers to conduct certain federal immigration enforcement actions. That includes making immigration arrests themselves, as well as holding people in custody past their release dates so that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials can pick them up.

But the ACLU and other critics of the controversial program say the agreements encourage racial profiling and engender distrust of police within immigrant communities. The letter refers to recent ACLU findings of misconduct at those 54 law enforcement offices, including jails with a record of people dying in custody and instances in which sheriffs have posted anti-immigrant comments on social media referencing “illegals” and “criminal aliens.”

And they say these issues could be further compounded by recent court rulings that for now have struck down Mayorkas’ immigration enforcement guidance, which means a broader population of immigrants could be put on ICE’s radar.

“With the Guidelines in continued limbo, now is a critical time for you to evaluate other significant ways to protect immigrant communities from indiscriminate arrests and deportations — including by addressing the 287(g) program, which for far too long has empowered racist sheriffs and emboldened racial profiling, causing pain and fear among immigrant communities around the country,” Moss wrote in the letter.

Moss’ letter follows an ACLU report, released in April, that conducted a review of all 287(g) agreements in place, in what the organization described as the first comprehensive review of the immigration program during the Biden administration.

The report found that more than half of the sheriffs participating in the cooperation program have records of making anti-immigrant comments, and nearly two-thirds of participating law enforcement agencies have a pattern of civil rights violations or racial profiling.

The report also highlighted how the Trump administration expanded the 287(g) program while in office. At the end of the Obama administration, 34 local law enforcement agencies were participating in the program. By April, when the ACLU’s report was released, there were 142.

Naureen Shah, senior policy counsel on immigrants’ rights and the principal author of the ACLU’s report, said the law enforcement agencies identified are those the administration should be investigating for civil rights violations, not funding.

“They’re just exactly the kind of law enforcement agency that the Biden administration has expressed concern about, and yet they are getting federal support through this program,” Shah said. “It doesn’t really make sense.”

But the Biden administration has yet to scale back the program.

President Joe Biden’s first pick to lead ICE, Texas Sheriff Ed Gonzalez — whose nomination was withdrawn earlier this year — promised during his confirmation hearing last year to preserve the program.

The Biden administration has terminated one 287(g) deal since taking office, according to the ACLU.

Last year, Democrats in both the House and Senate proposed legislation that would rescind the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to enter these contracts with local law enforcement officials.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have sought to promote more immigration cooperation locally with proposed bills that would crack down on jurisdictions that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities and give local officials’ more immigration enforcement powers.

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