A Hispanic woman was eating her lunch near a pond outside her workplace when deputies from the Frederick County Sheriff's Office arbitrarily accosted her. They questioned her about her immigration status, arrested her and placed her in detention, where she remained for 46 days, separated from her 1-year-old child. This 2008 incident has been echoed countless times across the country, as local police officers — deputized as immigration enforcers — engage in racial profiling to fulfill their mandate to detain undocumented immigrants for deportation.
Is this the sort of thing we want happening in Maryland — or anywhere in the United States, for that matter? The answer should be no, and that's why it's time to end the 287(g) program once and for all.
The federal 287(g) program delegates immigration enforcement authority to participating local law enforcement agencies, allowing them to apprehend individuals they suspect of immigration violations. Over the past few months, the Department of Homeland Security has been reviewing its agreements with 57 law enforcement agencies in 21 states, including here in Maryland, in Frederick County. The agreements were set to expire on or around Sept. 30, but the DHS extended them for an additional 90 days pending completion of its review.
As the DHS considers whether to renew its agreement with Frederick County, the ACLU of Maryland and a coalition of civil rights and faith organizations have joined together to urge Maryland's congressional delegation to help get the program out of our state. Similar efforts are under way in other states with 287(g) agreements, including Florida, South Carolina and Arizona.
Since people do not wear their immigration status on their sleeves, the 287(g) program inevitably incentivizes racial profiling. It has widely been criticized, even by DHS' own Office of the Inspector General, for failing to provide necessary training and oversight and for continuing to operate in jurisdictions under investigation for racial profiling. Police chiefs across the country, including Montgomery County's Chief Thomas Manger, have also criticized the 287(g) program for undermining community trust in the police and therefore harming law enforcement objectives.
Frederick County is a perfect illustration of these systemic problems. Sheriff Charles Jenkins claims that his office's participation is about catching the most violent offenders, but his numbers tell a very different story. A Migration Policy Institute report found that more than 80 percent of all arrests made under the 287(g) program in Frederick County were for low-level offenses, including over 60 percent for traffic violations.
Community advocates tell of regular baseless stops of Latinos, regardless of immigration status, since the county entered into its agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2008. They also report that immigrants are afraid to go to the police when they are victims of crime. Far from promoting public safety, Sheriff Jenkins' program has overwhelmingly resulted in incarcerating and deporting law-abiding individuals apprehended for the most minor transgressions.
The 287(g) program has predictably led to violations of constitutional rights and is seriously out of step with increasingly positive attitudes toward immigrants, both in Maryland and across the country. Following President Barack Obama's announcement last June ending the deportation of certain undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, a Gallup poll found that 66 percent of Americans thought immigration was a "good thing" for the U.S. — up from 59 percent the year before. Even conservative leaders have begun to come around and suggest that they would support some form of immigration reform.
Here in Maryland, 58 percent of voters supported upholding the Maryland Dream Act, the law that expands access to higher education for immigrant students. Marylanders have repeatedly and consistently opposed anti-immigrant measures in our legislature, and programs that alienate, racially profile and harass people of color do not belong anywhere in our state.
Given this progress, congressional leaders in Maryland and across the country have a special opportunity to tell the DHS that the 287(g) program is out of step with our values and should not be renewed. They should join in this effort and help make Maryland — and the nation — 287(g)-free.
Sirine Shebaya is a Liman Fellow for Immigrants' Rights and Racial Justice with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.