[JURIST] More than 500 international, US, state and local human rights and immigration advocacy organizations sent a letter [text, PDF] to US President Barack Obama Wednesday expressing concern over the use of local law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration law. The organizations, which included the Southern Poverty Law Center, AFL-CIO, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Amnesty International [advocacy websites], pointed specifically to § 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act [8 USC § 1357(g)] and the Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program [NIC backgrounder]. These programs allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to delegate immigration enforcement authority to local agencies, which the organizations say causes a “dangerous merger of the federal immigration enforcement system with state criminal justice systems.” This delegation, according to the letter, takes place without sufficient federal oversight and regardless of whether state authorities have a history of racial profiling. These policies themselves promote profiling of those who “look or sound ‘foreign'” in arrests in order to check immigration status, the letter explained:
DHS’ immigration enforcement programs have allowed arrests for minor charges, such as driving without a license and petty theft, amounting to no more than a subway ride, to be the gateway for immigration enforcement. … Once noncitizens are channeled into the immigration enforcement system – regardless of guilt or innocence, severity of the offense or how long ago it occurred, rehabilitation or ties to the community – they face a detention and deportation system with few due process protections. DHS has a bad track record of failing to ensure that immigration enforcement authority is not granted to local agencies with a history of racial profiling or racially disparate enforcement. Similarly, even as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announces measures to prioritize its use of government resources, the agency has no meaningful screening or oversight in place to ensure that it is not relying on the criminal arrest authority of local enforcement agencies with a history of misconduct.
The letter pointed specifically to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who operates with authority delegated by 287(g) and is the subject of a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation and several civil rights lawsuits, as a failure of DHS oversight.
The role of local law enforcement in US immigration law has been a point of debate in recent months, since the passage [JURIST report] of an Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive], which seeks to create state law authority to enforce federal immigration law, prompting numerous lawsuits assailing its constitutionality. Last month, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (R) filed the state’s opening brief [JURIST report] in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, asking the court to lift the preliminary injunction issued in July [JURIST report] blocking the law from taking full effect. The injunction came at the request of the DOJ, enjoining provisions of the law requiring the verification of the immigration status of people reasonably suspected of being illegal immigrants, authorizing the warrantless arrest of those police have probable cause to believe have committed an offense that could lead to deportation and requiring noncitizens to carry their registration papers with them at all times. The law has been widely criticized as unconstitutional for allegedly legalizing racial profiling [JURIST op-ed].