How 287(g) Agreements Harm Public Safety

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer frisks an immigrant at a processing center in lower Manhattan, New York, on April 11, 2018.

By the end of March 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had signed 76 287(g) agreements, which deputize state and local law enforcement personnel—more than 1,800 officers in 20 states—to enforce federal immigration laws. This represented an increase of 24 percent from the previous year. The Trump administration sees 287(g) agreements as a key piece in its effort to build a deportation force and increase immigrant removals from the country. Most recently, in Culpeper County, Virginia, Sheriff Scott Jenkins signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to implement a 287(g) agreement and issued a statement explaining that the agreement was necessary to prevent people in his county from being “killed by criminal illegal aliens.” Sheriff Jenkins is not the first official to focus on 287(g) agreements for their purported public safety benefits. However, in addition to imperiling the economic and fiscal prospects of immigrants in 287(g) localities, these agreements do not help—and actually harm—public safety.

The chilling effect of 287(g) on immigrant communities

Studies have found that when local law enforcement becomes entangled with ICE to enforce federal immigration laws, public safety and community trust suffer. A recent survey by University of California, San Diego’s Tom K. Wong—who is also a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress—examined behavioral change in the undocumented Mexican immigrant population based on whether individuals knew that local law enforcement worked with ICE. Respondents who were told that local law enforcement worked with ICE were 61 percent less likely to report crimes that they witnessed and 43 percent less likely to report being the victim of a crime than those who were told that local law enforcement was not working with ICE. These findings echo a 2012 survey that found that 44 percent of Latinos—regardless of immigration status—were less likely to contact police officers if they were victims of a crime, as they feared that they would be asked about their own or other’s immigration status. When the 2012 survey looked solely at undocumented residents, the percentage increased to 70 percent.

Because 287(g) agreements are formal arrangements in which local law enforcement agrees to perform certain federal immigration enforcement functions, it is likely that many of the damaging effects highlighted by the above surveys would be present in localities with 287(g) programs. In fact, recent research from the Center for American Progress shows that some local law enforcement agencies have decided to withdraw their 287(g) agreements precisely because immigrants were afraid to contact police. Being fearful of reporting crimes and interacting with police is all too familiar to many immigrants, such as Rita Cote and Danny Sigui.

When Rita Cote, a resident of Lake County, Florida—a jurisdiction that had a 287(g) agreement—called the police to report that her sister was the victim of domestic violence by her then-boyfriend, Rita was ultimately arrested and detained miles away from her husband and children, who were all U.S. citizens. Eventually, she was released and reunited with her family. However, Danny Sigui, an immigrant from Guatemala living in Providence, Rhode Island, was deported after he helped convict a murderer by providing key testimony. Before being deported, Sigui was asked if he would have come forward had he known that it would lead to his deportation. He replied, “If I had known they would take my liberty, that they would take my children away from me, that they would put me [in immigration detention], I would not do this.” And while Providence County itself did not have a 287(g) agreement, Danny Sigui’s case shows the pitfalls of entangling local police with federal immigration enforcement.

Diverting public safety resources

In a 2007 fact sheet, ICE described the 287(g) program as a way to target undocumented individuals accused of “violent crimes, human smuggling, gang/organized crime activity, sexual offenses, narcotics smuggling, and money laundering.” However, a 2011 study from the Migration Policy Institute found that about half of immigration detainers used in 287(g) jurisdictions—which allow localities to detain individuals for additional time after their release—were for people arrested in connection with only misdemeanors and traffic violations.

Before the Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff’s Office lost its 287(g) agreement in 2011, the county was a prime example of the dangers to public safety caused by such agreements. In 2007, Maricopa County implemented its 287(g) agreement, and from there, the sheriff’s office—under the now infamous Joe Arpaio—used an enormous amount of resources to target immigrants or people they perceived to be immigrants. The Goldwater Institute reported that, as of September 2008, Maricopa’s sheriff office had a total of 77,949 outstanding warrants, including 42,297 felony warrants, because the sheriff’s office prioritized immigration enforcement over other law enforcement efforts. Equally alarming, Sheriff Arpaio’s deputies failed to investigate 400 sex crimes that occurred during his time as sheriff between 2005 and 2007.

In an effort to assure the public that its new 287(g) agreement will not cost taxpayers any more money, Culpeper County Sheriff Jenkins reassured his residents that he has “not requested a dime more in [his] budget to implement this program.” But as Culpeper County officers will be taking on new immigration enforcement responsibilities, without any increase in the department’s budget, resources will inevitably be diverted away from current law enforcement priorities.

High costs that burden localities

The 287(g) program is not cost-free to local and state jurisdictions; in fact, the startup and daily operating costs, coupled with maintenance fees, can easily reach into the millions of dollars. As of 2010, Prince William County, Virginia, was paying an estimated $6.4 million annually and $25.9 million over five years to implement its 287(g) agreement with ICE. However, prior to the agreement, the county did not anticipate such high costs and had to raise property taxes by 5 percent and reduce funds given to local police and fire services in order to cover the cost of the program. Similarly, the costs of 287(g) agreements in Arkansas and Frederick County, Maryland, cost taxpayers a whopping $7.9 million and $3.2 million per year, respectively.

Like the counties above, Maricopa County suffered serious fiscal problems as a result of its 287(g) agreement. Within the first few months of the agreement, the county sheriff’s office had a $1.3 million budget deficit due to overtime payments for extra work. With more than 100 local officers trained to carry out federal immigration laws, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office had to pay more than $370,000 for 9,000 hours of overtime work; and these expenses do not account for the $43 million in litigation fees that the county was ordered to pay due to lawsuits directly related to the program.

In addition to costs, localities need to consider the other economic and fiscal consequences of 287(g) agreements. A recent Center for American Progress report analyzed 40 jurisdictions with standing agreements and found that immigrant households in those localities generate nearly $66 billion in spending power and contribute $24 billion in tax revenue annually. These economic benefits are necessary for local communities to thrive. The risk of losing immigrants—to either arrest, deportation, or relocation to more welcoming communities—due to harmful immigration policies is one that many jurisdictions cannot afford to take.

Conclusion

Agreements that encourage local officers to act as deportation agents isolate and alienate immigrant community members who can actually help keep their communities safe. Localities and some law enforcement officials around the country are realizing that embracing, not targeting, undocumented immigrants is better for public safety. In a 2006 report that focused on local law agencies’ enforcement of federal immigration laws, the Major Cities Chiefs Association called the practice a breach of trust with immigrant communities, further noting: “Their cooperation is needed to prevent and solve crimes and maintain public order, safety, and security in the whole community.”

There have been counties and cities that have rejected 287(g) programs, demonstrating that these agreements are not always permanent. If public safety is indeed their main concern, local jurisdictions should think twice and consider the consequences of implementing 287(g) agreements.

Laura Muñoz Lopez is a special assistant for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress.