(CNSNews.com) - Amid Hispanic calls for immigration leniency, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency is scrapping a program that allowed specially trained state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law.
On Dec. 21, the Friday before Christmas, ICE announced that it has decided "not to renew any of its agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies that operate task forces under the 287(g) program."
ICE said it has concluded that "other enforcement programs, including Secure Communities, are a more efficient use of resources for focusing on priority cases."
Under Secure Communities, the federal officials -- not state or local law enforcement officers -- decide what immigration enforcement action, if any, is appropriate.
The Obama administration in 2009 weakened the 287(g) program by directing state and local police not to arrest many of the illegal immigrants with whom they came into contact.
Instead of allowing local police to arrest people simply on suspicion of being in the United States illegally, the Obama administration established categories of illegal aliens who are a “priority for arrest and detention.”
Those priorities include aliens who have broken criminal laws, are national security threats, recent border-crossers, repeat immigration law violators, or fugitives from immigration court.
According to a fact sheet on its website, ICE since 1996 has had as many as 57 active 287(g) partnerships in 21 states and has trained and certified more than 1,300 officers to enforce federal immigration law.
Also on Dec. 21, ICE issued a new policy restricting the use of detainers against suspected illegal aliens who have been arrested or convicted of minor traffic violations or other petty offenses. ICE said this will allow it to devote its resources to apprehending felons and other priority individuals.
ICE uses detainers to identify and ultimately deport criminal aliens who are currently in federal, state or local jails or prisons. The detainer informs law enforcement agencies that ICE intends to assume custody of an individual being held by that law enforcement agency.
"Smart and effective immigration enforcement relies on setting priorities for removal and executing on those priorities," said ICE Director John Morton in a Dec. 21 news release announcing the policy changes.
"In order to further enhance our ability to focus enforcement efforts on serious offenders, we are changing who ICE will issue detainers against. While the FY 2012 removals indicate that we continue to make progress in focusing resources on criminal and priority aliens, with more convicted criminals being removed from the country than ever before, we are constantly looking for ways to ensure that we are doing everything we can to utilize our resources in a way that maximizes public safety."
ICE says it deported 409,849 individuals in fiscal year 2012, more than half of them (55 percent) convicted of felonies or misdemeanors.
Twenty-four percent (96,828) of those removed from the U.S. were repeat immigration violators or immigration fugitives; and 17 percent (69,957) were recent border-crossers. Four percent fell into the "other" category.
Of the 225,390 aliens (55 percent) with criminal violations, 1,215 were convicted of homicide; 5,557 were convicted of sexual offenses; 40,448 aliens were convicted of crimes involving drugs; and 36,166 were convicted of driving under the influence.
ICE said that 96 percent of the total 409,849 individuals deported in fiscal 2012 fell into one of ICE's enforcement priorities -- a record high, it said.
Hispanic Caucus Calls for Ending Program That Identified 100,000 Illegal Aliens, Many With Criminal Records (Oct. 1, 2009)
Republicans Say Obama Administration Is Limiting Arrests of Illegal Aliens (Oct. 30, 2009)
Gov. Brewer: Obama Shows 'Utter Disregard' for Arizona in Canceling Immigration Enforcement Program (June 26, 2012)