Sheriff Arpaio's Office Is Only Law Enforcement Agency in U.S. Denied Authority to Enforce Immigration Laws, Says DHS

By Penny Starr | October 22, 2009 | 6:34 PM EDT

Arizona's Maricopa County sheriff, Joe Arpaio (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) told CNSNews.com that after reviewing the Memorandum of Agreements between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and state and local law enforcement agencies in 23 states, the only agency to lose its authority under the 287(g) program to operate task forces that can enforce federal immigration laws is the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.
 
“It’s the only one,” Matt Chandler, spokesman for the DHS, said on Thursday.
 
Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who oversees the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, is well-known for arresting illegal immigrants to be deported, and his success in catching illegals has been criticized largely by liberal public leaders and activists.
 
On Oct. 16, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that 67 agreements had been renewed, including Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s department, which retained its authority to check the immigration status of individuals who are booked into Maricopa County jails but is no longer authorized to check immigration status during street operations.
 
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 added Section 287(g), which explains performance of immigration-officer functions by state officers and employees, to the Immigration and Nationality Act. It authorizes the secretary of DHS to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, permitting officers trained and certified by ICE to perform immigration law enforcement functions.
 
Since January 2006, the 287(g) program is credited with identifying more than 130,000 potentially removable aliens, the majority of which are incarcerated in local jails. More than 1,075 law-enforcement officers have been trained and certified through the program.
 
“Coordinating with our state and local partners is important to smart and effective enforcement of our immigration laws,” Napolitano said in announcing the renewals. “These new agreements promote public safety by prioritizing the identification and removal of dangerous criminal aliens, and ensure consistency and stronger federal oversight of state and local immigration law enforcement efforts across the nation.”
 
“The rules set forth in these agreements will enhance our efforts to work together effectively with our local partners,” Napolitano said.
 
But critics charge that the Obama administration is trying to appease people who oppose amnesty for the 12 to 14 million people who are believed to be in the United States illegally.
 
“We are troubled by this administration’s promotion of 287(g) contracts and other programs that continue to hijack state and local criminal justice systems to enforce federal civil immigration law,” Margaret Huang, executive director of the pro-amnesty Rights Working Group, said ahead of a demonstration at DHS headquarters on Thursday to oppose the agreements.
 
“While Arizona is an egregious case, this is only one example of the abuses that can occur under such programs,” Huang added.
 
As reported earlier by CNSNews.com, the Hispanic Congressional Caucus has asked the Obama administration to terminate the 287(g) program because it claims the program uses racial profiling to target immigrant communities.
 
“These agreements are the subject of serious concern as local law enforcement agencies have used the new powers to target communities of color, including a disproportionate number of Latinos, for arrest,” the caucus wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama on Sept. 28.
 
“The 287(g) program, which was significantly expanded throughout the Bush administration, relinquishes the power to enforce federal immigration laws to local law enforcement and corrections agencies,” the caucus added.
 
“The misuse of the 287(g) program by its current participants has rendered it ineffective and dangerous to community safety,” the letter said.
 
CNSNews.com also earlier reported that Sheriff Arpaio could use another federal law to continue to enforce immigration laws in Maricopa County.
 
Kris Kobach, former counsel to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and a professor of law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, told CNSNews.com that there is a federal statute that addresses immigration law and local law enforcement.
 
“Federal law does expressly authorize state and local police to make immigration arrests of previously deported felons who return to the United States and are in the country unlawfully,” Kobach said.
 
“That federal statute is found at 8 U.S.C. 1252c. In addition, as the U.S. Department of Justice officially recognized in 2002, state and local police possess the inherent authority to arrest illegal aliens and detain them briefly in order to transfer them to federal custody,” Kobach added. 
 
“Those are two forms of arrest authority that Sheriff Arpaio possesses, apart from Section 287(g) authority,” Kobach said.
 
Arpaio claims that more than 30,000 individuals have been identified as illegal aliens since his department signed on with ICE in 2007.
 
Arpaio said he plans to continue to arrest people who are in the United States illegally.
 
“We’ve been doing it for two years and have been very successful, but I guess they don’t like to enforce illegal immigration laws,” Arpaio told CNSNews.com. “[It] doesn’t make any difference. I’m still going to continue my programs, regardless of what the feds like or don’t like.”

In the Oct. 16 announcement, the DHS said that 55 agreements had been signed by ICE and the partnering agency; 12 agreements had been reached and await approval by the local jurisdiction's supervisory authority; and six agreements had negotiations underway.

Six jurisdictions did not re-sign the new 287(g) agreement or withdrew during negotiations for a variety of reasons, including implementation of the Secure Communities program, budgetary constraints and limited program utilization, according to the DHS.

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