This article was originally published in the News and Observer on March 26, 2009.
Judging from all the negative attention 287(g) has attracted lately, you would think it was responsible for the recession, global warming and the state budget deficit. The 287(g) program is a federal-local partnership that trains local law enforcement to enforce immigration law. Seven North Carolina counties, along with the city of Durham, currently participate in the initiative. Attacks on 287(g) began in earnest this February when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), joined by law students at UNC-Chapel Hill, charged that 287(g) encourages racial profiling. A few weeks later, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) advised Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to do a better job of monitoring 287(g), including clarifying whether enforcement should be limited to serious criminals. Finally, the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security recently held hearings on 287(g), concluding that it is unclear whether the program is a success.
At the same time, Civitas’ polling finds that 88 percent of N.C. voters support county participation in 287(g). Likewise, almost every county in North Carolina is working with ICE in some capacity to help deport criminal illegal aliens. Thus what we have here is an extremely popular policy that, according to the ACLU and others, is evil and ineffective. I, for one, am going to side with the voters on this one. These are four reasons why:
We need 287(g)
Until we decide U.S. citizenship is irrelevant, it will be necessary to distinguish between persons we wish to grant citizenship to and those we don’t. The open borders lobby has taken to arguing that in return for a “pathway to citizenship,” they will agree to increased border security. They made this same promise in 1986; the border is still not secure. In any case, even the Reagan amnesty did not include felons. Moreover, federal law already stipulates that the following classes of persons are ineligible for entry into the United States: most criminals, terrorists, spies, drug dealers, drug addicts, smugglers, pimps, prostitutes, communists, Nazis, persons likely to go on welfare, persons with a communicable disease, persons lacking documentation proving they have been vaccinated, and persons with a physical or mental disorder that threatens the safety and property of others. That is to say that even under the most liberal immigration policies imaginable, we would still need a program – either 287(g) or something very similar – dedicated to deporting criminal illegal aliens and others barred from legally entering or remaining in the United States.
Illegal immigration is still a crime
One of the primary accusations leveled against 287(g) is that ICE has marketed the partnership as being aimed at “serious” criminals; yet most 287(g) arrests are for misdemeanors and traffic stops. Never mind that most arrests, period, are for misdemeanors and traffic stops. What the opponents of 287(g) really mean here is that illegal immigration is not a crime. Likewise, they would have us believe that those activities – identity theft, driving without a license or insurance, and tax evasion – perpetrated by the majority of illegal aliens so as to conceal their status are not really crimes either. Yet the language authorizing 287(g) in no way limits the program’s applicability to “serious” criminals, but is specifically intended to encourage local law enforcement to help enforce immigration law. In other words, Congress’ intent in passing 287(g) was not merely to target serious criminals, but to use local resources to discourage illegal immigration.
Immigration is a local issue
Although the federal government is responsible for setting immigration policy, local governments have an important role to play in enforcing immigration law. To begin with, state law (G.S. §11-7) requires every elected and appointed official to swear an oath supporting the U.S. Constitution. Second, the costs of providing public services – education, law enforcement, healthcare – to illegal aliens fall primarily on local budgets. Third, whatever the ACLU might say, 73 percent of N.C. voters think their local government needs to do more to combat illegal immigration.
The rule of law is the best protection against racism
It is telling that the ACLU’s report does not cite any definitive evidence that 287(g) encourages racial profiling. At best, they suggest that because most 287(g) arrests are for misdemeanors and because some sheriffs have made racist remarks, there is a strong likelihood that racial profiling is occurring. Setting aside the fact that the ethnic category of Hispanic encompasses people of different races, one gets the impression that the ACLU is upset that traffic violations are leading to the enforcement of immigration law. Again, the message here is that some groups should get a pass. Under the rule of law, however, no one gets a pass; everyone is treated the same, regardless of race or, even, immigration status.
Dr. Jameson Taylor is a Senior Policy Fellow with the Civitas Institute