Local Immigration Enforcement and Arrests of the Hispanic Population
Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which was added to the INA by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), allows the federal government to enter into voluntary partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration law. Upon entering these agreements, law enforcement officers are trained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and receive delegated authority to enquire about an individual’s immigration status and, if found to be removable, to detain the individual while ICE makes a determination of whether to initiate deportation proceedings. In some instances, this inquiry about immigration status takes place as part of the intake process when a criminal defendant is arrested and placed into a criminal jail. In other instances, task force officers are trained to inquire in the field about immigration status and enforce immigration law against people who have not committed any criminal offense. The key difference between the two models is that task force agents can arrest for immigration violations undocumented individuals who have not committed any criminal offense, whereas in the jail model individuals must be arrested on some other criminal charge before immigration status can be determined.
The 287(g) program has raised several concerns regarding its implementation and results. First, the program could lead to racial and ethnic profiling. In particular, given that the majority of undocumented immigrants hail from Latin American countries, it is highly plausible that Hispanics, regardless of immigrant status, might be disproportionally affected by this program. That is, in a jurisdiction that participates in the jail model, an officer might arrest a Hispanic individual for a very minor offence in order to process them through the jail and determine their immigration status, when perhaps without the program they may have only issued a citation. Another concern with the program is that it may lead to tensions between state and local law enforcement and the local community. If the program creates an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust by community members toward state and local law enforcement agents, even law abiding individuals may choose to avoid interaction with law enforcement agents. This can make victims and witnesses hesitant to come forward, for fear that their undocumented status will be uncovered. Such a situation inhibits law enforcement’s ability to do its job and can, ironically, make communities less safe.
This study explores the effects of implementation of the 287(g) program in Frederick County, Maryland on the arrests of Hispanics. Using data from individual arrest records from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, which has a 287(g) agreement with ICE, and the Frederick Police Department, which does not, the author analyzes the changes in arrests between the two agencies before and after the 287(g) program was implemented in 2008. The author finds that overall, the arrests of Hispanics fell, suggesting that the Hispanic community avoided interaction with law enforcement when the program began. However, the author also finds that the program led to a significantly higher number of arrests of Hispanics by the Sheriff’s Office than would have occurred in its absence, indicating that attention was focused toward the Hispanic community as a result of the program. These results suggest that, if the program is to continue, additional safeguards are needed to prevent abuses and civil rights violations.