By Chief Joel F. Shults, Ed.D.

According to the ICE website, in fiscal year 2020, the 287(g) program encountered approximately 920 aliens convicted for assault, 1,261 convicted for dangerous drugs, 104 convicted for sex offenses/assaults, 377 convicted for obstructing police, 190 convicted for weapon offenses, and 37 convicted for homicide. Despite being largely responsible for the discovery of over two thousand violent offenders with no legal standing to be present in the United States, some officials are abandoning the program with the notion that it is not fair to immigrants.

One of the missions of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is to intercept criminal actors who are among those who are attempting to enter and remain in the U.S. on the pretense of seeking a better life. A program known as the 287g program was established to increase ICE’s ability to intercept criminal non-citizens by training and authorizing local law enforcement to identify these felonious actors.

The program was part of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act established during the Clinton Presidency in 1996. This section of the law authorizes the Director of ICE to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, that permit designated officers to perform limited immigration law enforcement functions. The agreements allow state and local officers to act as a force multiplier in the identification, arrest, and service of warrants and detainers of incarcerated foreign-born individuals with criminal charges or convictions. Those deemed amenable to removal are identified while still secure in state or local custody.

There are two components of 287g that can result in agreements with local agencies. One concentrates on jail populations, the other on serving arrest warrants. A total of the two programs reflects agreement with 148 agencies in 27 states.

The 287g program has been the target of criticism with accusations that it is implemented locally with little oversight and accountability. Opponents fear that the program results in immigrants being profiled and removed from the U.S. for minor law violations. These issues can be resolved by more ICE oversight with the existing ability of ICE to withdraw from an agency agreement for violations of the intent of the program. Agreements should include the establishment of a local steering committee with regular and public meetings.

Rather than examine benefits and improvement to the 287g program, two newly elected Georgia Sheriffs, Gwinnett County Sheriff Keybo Taylor, and Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens are ending the program. Former Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway publicly stated in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution his assessment of the 287g program: “It has saved people. I certainly think there have been fewer child molestations, rapes, murders, robberies.” And yet, the politics of political correctness and the façade of compassion will increase the risk of violent victimization not only to those Georgia residents but to everyone.

With the new Biden presidency, it is likely that the policy of some states and cities to be “sanctuaries” where law enforcement is forbidden to cooperate with ICE will continue based on the political demographics of those areas. After a dramatic slowdown of both legal and illegal immigration under the Trump administration, a flood of immigrants will expect better treatment under Biden as COVID concerns also recede. How those who are seeking asylum, freedom, and economic opportunity will be treated while fugitives and felons are ferreted out remains to be seen.

Immigration reform has been a political hot potato in every administration in history. Knowing that America is still a shining beacon of hope for oppressed people everywhere does not supersede the need that every nation on earth faces when it comes to establishing boundaries. Law enforcement’s mission at every level is to protect those in their care from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Political favor should not make that mission more difficult at the cost of the safety of our communities.