Liberal Group Advises Administration to Detain Only Illegal Aliens Who Have Already Been Convicted of ‘Serious Crimes’

By Penny Starr | February 4, 2011 | 5:00 AM EST

In this Sept. 24, 2010 photo, Benjamin Reynosa, 49, of Orange Cove, picks table grapes near Fowler, Calif. (AP Photo/Garance Burke)

( – The Migration Policy Institute (MPI), a liberal immigration advocacy group, is asking the Obama administration to scale back its 287 (g) program, which allows trained state and local law officers to enforce federal immigration law.

In the report Delegation and Divergence: A Study of 287 (g) State and Local Immigration Enforcement, released this week, the MPI said an analysis of the program showed that it was not employed uniformly across the country, leading to “negative impacts on immigrant communities.”

Also, in the report, the MPI calls on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which operates 287 (g) memorandums of agreements for the Department of Homeland Security, to “reconfirm” the shift in the program to focusing on “criminal aliens” under the Obama administration and calls for state and local law enforcement to only detain illegal aliens who have been convicted of “Level 1 or 2 offenses.”

In a June 29, 2010 memorandum, John Morton, assistant secretary for ICE, defined Level 1 offenses as aliens who had felony convictions, and Level 2 as aliens convicted of a felony or those with “three or more crimes punishable by more than one year, commonly referred to as ‘misdemeanors.’”

The MPI report also recommends that ICE limit 287 (g) programs to “targeted” detainment of  “serious criminal offenders” and calls on the Department of Justice to investigate programs suspected of “racial and ethnic profiling.”

When asked by about the MPI report, Cori Bassett, a spokesperson for ICE, said the report “affirms” ICE’s  immigration policies, but fails to note that certain crimes will also be the focus of immigration law enforcement.

“MPI’s study affirms the value of ICE’s focus on enforcing immigration law in a manner that best promotes public safety, border security, and the integrity of the immigration system,” Bassett said. “The study, however, fails to acknowledge that certain misdemeanors -- such as drunk driving and domestic violence -- are of serious concern, undermine public safety, and warrant ICE’s attention.”

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, and co-author of another study on the 287 (g) program, told that the MPI findings are not supported by the program’s success, especially in jurisdictions where state and local law enforcement are allowed to use it in the field, in jails and as part of criminal investigations.

“This logic is faulty on so many levels,” Vaughan said. “First of all, anyone who is here illegally is potentially subject to immigration law enforcement, whether they commit another offense or not.”

“Beyond that, it would be a big mistake for the Obama administration to prevent these local officers from using their immigration law training and authority to address the whole spectrum of public safety and quality of life problems that are a result of illegal immigration,” she said.

“If officers have to wait until someone is convicted to place a detainer, then many dangerous people will walk out the jailhouse door, free to continue their life of crime, and free to ignore future orders to appear to be held accountable for their crimes,” Vaughan said.

Vaughn cited cases of illegal aliens who have committed “low-level” crimes, but were later charged with heinous crimes, including child rape, murder and drunk-driving fatalities.

Her report, The 287 (g) Program: Protecting Home Towns and Homeland, includes statistics that show reduced local crime rates, smaller inmate populations and lower criminal justice costs.

Protesters rally at the Arizona Capitol on Sunday, April, 25, 2010. They want President Obama to fight a tough new Arizona law targeting illegal immigrants. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Vaughan said some findings of the MPI report validate her own research, including the fact that state and local law enforcement are closely supervised by ICE officials and that in communities where 287 (g) is in place, the illegal alien population was reduced.

“It’s just not logical to think that ICE should clip its wings in this way, when the potential benefits for public safety, quality of life, and rule of law are so obvious and attainable,” Vaughan said.

In a recent speech in El Paso, Texas, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano touted the number of criminal illegal aliens that have been deported while stating that it is not feasible to remove all of the estimated 12 to 14 million illegal aliens in the United States.

“This surge in criminal apprehensions and removals didn’t happen by accident,” Napolitano said. “Since we just don’t have the resources to remove every single individual who is in the country illegally, like any good prosecutor’s office or law enforcement organization, we set priorities and focus on those who present the biggest danger to communities.”

According to ICE, about 80 of the more than 3,000 ICE jurisdictions in the United States are participating in the 287 (g) program.