The Department of Justice last week filed a lawsuit challenging Arizona’s controversial immigration-enforcement law S.B. 1070 — which requires law enforcement officials to “determine the immigration status” of a person if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the person is an undocumented immigrant. In Florida, politicians and activists have argued the merits of importing S.B. 1070 to Florida, with high-profile Republican gubernatorial candidates Bill McCollum and Rick Scott, among others, both pledging support for the Arizona legislation.

But Florida law enforcement officials may not even need the backing of a new law. Section 287(g), a provision in the federal government’s Immigration and Nationality Act, has enabled select local Florida officers to perform immigration enforcement for years, and its implementation is drawing criticism for trampling on immigrants’ civil rights.

Enforced since 2002, Section 287(g) authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to “enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, permitting designated officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions.”

Subhash Kateel of the Florida Immigrant Coalition tells The Florida Independent “there is a direct link between 287(g) and S.B. 1070. It’s not that one trumps the other, but they create a culture that leads to racial profiling.” In October 2009, the 287(g) enforcement agreement with Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., was suspended amidst racial profiling allegations.

“We need to make clear that racial profiling is a reality, not a theory,” says Kateel. “FLIC did an anonymous survey in Miami-Dade earlier this year and asked about 200 immigrants, would they contact local law enforcement if they witnessed a crime? Over 50 percent said no because law enforcement is in touch with ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. About a third of those respondents were legal immigrants. And this in immigrant-friendly Miami-Dade County, where there is no 287(g).”

Existing federal immigration enforcement law like Section 287(g) makes one thing very clear: The federal government is not arguing against border security and immigration law enforcement but about who will do it, how it should be done, and who it will impact.

Supporters of S.B. 1070-type legislation insist the federal government hasn’t done enough. Yet the overall federal budget for Customs and Border Protection went from $6 billion in 2006 to $11.4 billion in 2010. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement budget in that same period increased from $3.7 billion to $5.7 billion.

During the same period, federal funding for 287(g) went from $6 million to $68 million.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Bay County sheriff’s office, the Collier County sheriff’s office, and the Jacksonville sheriff’s office currently have 287(g) agreements with ICE. Nationwide, close to 70 law enforcement agencies in 24 states have 287(g) enforcement programs in place.

The Florida Independent contacted three Florida law enforcement agencies about their experience with 287(g); they did not respond to either phone calls or emails.

The local law enforcement agencies are responsible for maintaining the salaries and benefits of their 287(g) officers. They also bear responsibility for travel costs, housing, and daily expenses associated with the training required for participation in 287(g).

Local law enforcement officers work under the supervision of ICE, which provides funding as well as information technology equipment and services.

The local officers work under a variety of 287(g) “models.”

In the Jail Enforcement Model, officers “working in state and local detention facilities identify and process removable aliens who have been charged with or convicted of an offense.” That includes preparing paperwork that will be used in immigration courts and transporting aliens to ICE detention facilities.

Under the Task Force Model, patrol officers, detectives, or criminal investigators identify and detain “aliens” in community settings.

These officers are authorized to question a person’s immigration status whether in detention or on the street. They can serve warrants for immigration violations and hold undocumented immigrants in detention facilities after completing their sentences as a courtesy to ICE.

In March 2010, the DHS Office of the Inspector General reviewed the performance of 287(g) programs, and “noted several areas in which ICE had not instituted controls to promote effective program operations and address related risks.” (Read the report in full or download it below.)

ICE says it collaborates with local agencies “to identify and process for removal criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety or a danger to the community.” But the OIG visited four 287(g) sites and reviewed 286 cases of people detained by officers. Only 9 percent were convicted of major crimes — large-scale drug offenses, murder, manslaughter, rape, or kidnapping.

The OIG also identified a lack of ICE oversight and supervision. Are our local officers suitable for immigration enforcement?

“ICE has not guided how information about allegations, complaints, and other indications of misconduct should be reported, maintained, or used as part of the suitability determination process,” the OIG report states.

What risks does this involve? The OIG claims that “Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Considerations Are Not Consistently Weighed in the 287(g) Application Review and Selection Process.”

Insufficient training about immigration enforcement and civil rights is also a problem. Several law enforcement agencies involved in 287(g) has been accused of civil rights violations; two have been involved in racial-profiling lawsuits.

The OIG reports that local officers in the program identified over 33, 000 “aliens” who were removed by ICE and made 33 recommendations for ICE to “strengthen management controls and improve its oversight of 287(g). Immigration and Customs Enforcement concurred with 32 of the recommendations.”

Courtenay Strickland, the director of public policy and advocacy for ACLU Florida, tells TFI, “We are opposed to 287(g) because it leads to racial profiling and reduces public safety because people are not comfortable reporting crime.”

“287(g) also diverts resources from local law enforcement agencies,” Strickland points out.

In August 2009 then-Miami Police Chief John Timoney joined the ACLU, FLIC and over 500 other local and national organizations to demand President Obama terminate 287(g). The administration nevertheless reissued the program.

“287(g) and S.B. 1070 are similar because they allow local police to enforce federal law,” Strickland adds. “You are turning the presumption of innocence on its head because people have to carry documents to prove their status and that affects legal residents and citizens as well.”

“If the police pull me over they will not ask me, a white guy with no accent, to prove my immigration status,” says Greg Katon, a staff attorney for ACLU Florida. ”So we know racial profiling plays a role in why an officer would suspect a person is undocumented. And that is a civil rights violation.”

The OIG report:

OIG Report

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