ACLU Urges Texas Sheriffs to Stay out of Costly Immigration Enforcement

“The bottom line is that 287(g) agreements cost counties money while damaging public safety and community trust in law enforcement,” the ACLU letter said.

Under the controversial 287(g) agreement, local law enforcement officers can enforce immigration law.  Flickr/Ed Uthman

The ACLU of Texas warned 13 Texas sheriffs on Monday not to move forward on their plans to enforce immigration law on behalf of the federal government. In March, the Observer reported that 13 counties along two north-south highway corridors had applied to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to receive training that would deputize officers in local jails as immigration agents.

In letters urging the counties to withdraw their applications, the ACLU wrote, “The bottom line is that 287(g) agreements cost counties money while damaging public safety and community trust in law enforcement.”

Under the program, officers would be able to question people in jail about their immigration status and impose detainers on those in the country without authorization, holding them so federal immigration officers could effect a deportation. Currently, only three Texas jurisdictions maintain such agreements, but the Trump administration has called for an expansion of the program.

With ICE conducting roundups at schools and in courthouses, immigrant communities are already on edge,” said Astrid Dominguez, policy strategist for the ACLU of Texas. She added that the 287(g) program would drive witnesses and victims of crime further “into the shadows.”

Last week, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo announced that reports of rape and violent crime from Hispanics had fallen dramatically since Trump took office.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez recently ended his 287(g)agreement, citing an annual cost of $675,000.

Jackson County Sheriff Andy Louderback, who organized the 13 counties to apply to the program, said his goal is to protect the public by making sure no criminal immigrant gets released.

“If I’ve got foreign-borns in my jail, I need to know what I’m dealing with,” Louderback told the Observer.

But the ACLU said the program doesn’t focus on dangerous criminals, pointing to a 2011 study that found half of those targeted under 287(g) were charged with minor misdemeanors or traffic violations.

The program also “encourages racial profiling and creates fertile conditions for Fourth Amendment violations in Texas jails,” said Edgar Saldivar, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas.

The ACLU maintains that immigration detainers are unconstitutional because they extend how long someone is held in jail based solely on immigration status. The detainers allow authorities to hold people after they’re due to be released from jail.

Advocates worry that Trump may also want to resurrect 287(g) agreements that empowered local cops to question people on the streets about their immigration status and make arrests on that basis.

Until 2013, there was a type of 287(g) agreement called the “task force model,” where officers enforced immigration law during the course of daily activities. President Obama ended that version of the program during a rash of controversy over racial profiling in Maricopa County, Arizona, and since then, only the jail model has existed.

“Counties have no obligation under federal law to enter this voluntary program,” said Saldivar. “And considering the risks to public safety and the potential exposure to civil rights liability, it’s a mystery why any of them would.”

Gus Bova reports on immigration, the U.S.-Mexico border and grassroots movements for the Observer. He formerly worked at a shelter for asylum-seekers and refugees. You can contact him at [email protected]

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Published at 5:58 pm CST
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