No way to police immigration

Our view: Local efforts at policing illegal immigrants miss the big picture

March 20, 2009

Since the 9/11 attacks, federal immigration agents have helped train local police and sheriff's deputies in enforcing the country's immigration laws. The program - now in use by 67 law enforcement agencies in 23 states - is supposed to help reduce serious crime. Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins would tell you, as he did a congressional committee recently, that the program has helped his suburban county. But neither Sheriff Jenkins nor any one else has been able to show that this federal-local partnership has in fact reduced crime.

Without that critical evidence, Congress should resist any effort to expand the program, known by its authorizing legislation: Section 287(g) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The training program is not the answer to the country's illegal immigration woes. It's not even an effective Band-Aid.

A report by the Government Accountability Office couldn't document that any of the program's stated goals had been met. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reported 79,000 arrests for suspected immigration law violations through the program from January 2006 to November 2008. But again, ICE couldn't say how many of those arrests were for serious crimes because it doesn't collect that data.

Sheriff Jenkins has said that the program has been effective in controlling crime related to the "unchecked flow of illegal immigrants through our southern borders with Mexico" - his deputies have arrested 309 individuals since the program began in Frederick County last year, and 25 of them were charged with a felony. And yet several studies - including one of prison inmates in California - have shown that regardless of legal status, immigrants have lower incarceration rates than citizens born in this country.

The local policing fit the immigration enforcement goals of the Bush administration. But the 287(g) program is a diversion from what's needed to arrest the flow of illegal immigrants. Nothing short of comprehensive immigration reform will effectively address the challenges posed by the country's 12 million illegal residents.

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