The 287(g) program: good or poor or other?

The federal immigration program 287g, allows partnerships with federal and local law enforcement in enforcing federal immigration law.  Frederick County Maryland Sheriff’s Office has an agreement with Immigration Customs Enforcement and participates in the program. The program includes training for local law enforcement to identify and arrest undocumented persons and also allows the Frederick County Detentions Center to hold undocumented individuals.  The program also compensates the Sheriff’s Office for the cost of incarcerations.

The program is controversial with both sides having arguments.  Pro 287(g) elements say that allowing local law enforcement to arrest and detain illegal immigrants makes us safer.  The anti-program elements say that local law enforcement becomes occupied with federal laws, neglecting local needs, which makes us less safe.  The question is, are we safer? Since Frederick County is only one of three counties in the state participating in the program, do we have fewer crimes committed here?  If the Sheriff’s office arrest a violent offender, who is an illegal immigrant, we would be safer. However, we should expect that the Sheriff’s Office would be arresting violent offenders, independent of their legal status.

One would think that if the program actually made us safer, every jurisdiction in the country would have an agreement, but relatively few agencies are actively involved.  While Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) currently has 287(g) agreements with 78 agencies, only 37 were actively working in the program as of March 2017. (The latest figures I could find)  With over 17,000 police agencies in the country, 37 is not a significant number. Participation with the 287(g) program peaked in 2011 with 72 participating agencies, which is also not significant.  

Even with the relative low participation rate, the National Sheriff’s Association supports the program stating, “It is critical that local law enforcement maintain and build upon the partnerships with federal law enforcement to ensure that collectively we can promote, protect, and preserve the public safety and homeland security.”  Conversely, the International Association of Chiefs of Police opposes the program saying that it creates mistrust and that trust is necessary to “maintain public order.”   The Major Cities Chiefs Association also opposes the program for reasons of “trust, communication, and cooperationissues.  A law enforcement immigration task force that was created to examine the issue also opposes the program.  The task force included police chiefs and 63 sheriffs produced a letter, “asserting that they don’t want their officers acting as immigration enforcement agents.”

Opposing a program for reasons of mistrust, public order and cooperation issues, does not say the program makes us safer or unsafe.  So, are we safer with the program? To examine the effectiveness, or safety of the program you would have to compare crime and arrest data from surroundings jurisdictions, using the federal data on crime statistics. To have validity you should examine the statistical data that existed before being involved in the program and any changes since our involvement.  While this has not been done in Maryland, it was done in North Carolina.

The research in North Carolina was conducted by the Cato Institute Washington, D.C.  The intent of the research was simple, “Do Immigration Enforcement Programs Reduce Crime?”  In 2018 an Abstract was published.  They examined “287(g)’s implementation across multiple counties in North Carolina and identify its impact on local crime rates and police clearance rates by exploiting time variation in regional immigration enforcement trends.” They found “no causal relationship between apprehensions through the 287(g) program and measures of crime rates or police clearances.”  The research was unable to demonstrate any increases, or decreases in crime or public safety.  Crime, arrest rates and clearance rates were not affected with the 287(g) program(s) in North Carolina.

While the intent of the research was to determine if the program reduced crime and the results showed no decreases, or increases, there was an unexpected finding.  They found “a significant relationship between the activation of 287(g) agreements and assaults against police officers.   Was this unexpected finding related to public trust in law enforcement?

A federal research project on “Secure Communities”, related to the arrest and deportation of illegal immigrates also showed no reductions in crime rates. The study was published in the Journal of Law & Economics.  The report stated that, “results show that Secure Communities led to no meaningful reductions in the FBI index crime rate.  Nor has it reduced rates of violent crime—homicide, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault. This evidence shows that the program has not served its central objective of making communities safer.   That was published in 2014.

The 287(g) program is controversial and yet there is no evidence that it makes us safer.  Related to the controversy is the arrest and separations on families and children entering our southern border.  These issues are also related to our immigration laws and the proposed border wall. The fact is that if we had a board wall, we would still have immigration issues.  All of these issues should be examined together, since they are all interrelated.

Another perspective is that the border wall, the separation of families and the 287(g) program are symptom of a much larger problem.  It is estimated that there are currently 68 million refuges worldwide. That is a problem. Anywhere in the world if you have desperate people escaping and or leaving their homes to migrate to where they feel safe, you have immigration issues.  How the wealthy and prosperous countries can help or influence the poor and unstable counties – is the real problem. In the 1990’s President Clinton authorized loaning Mexico significant funds to stabilize their economy. While President Clinton was soundly criticized for his actions, the loans were repaid ahead of time with a profit of $600 million.  A side effect of the stabilization was a decrease in illegal border crossings.

What does it take for someone to wake up in the middle of a night, pack up the belongings they can carry and then move hundreds and even thousands of miles, often knowing they will never return?  When we can answer that question we will be addressing the immigration problem. Simple solutions to complex problems rarely work. Additionally, when we only address symptoms, the problem(s) often grow.

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