Unlike in many previous campaign seasons, the race for Cobb County Sheriff, a post currently held by Neil Warren, has become anything but a sleepy afterthought of a contest. Sadly, much of the rhetoric from Warren’s opponent, Cobb County Police Maj. Craig Owens, has consisted of charges that bear little, if any, relationship to the facts.
This is especially the case concerning a program commonly referred to as “287(g).”
The program, which Warren supports and Owens opposes, is administered by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known by its supporters and detractors alike as “ICE.” 287(g) was part of a major immigration reform package in 1996 that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. I was a member of the House of Representatives at the time and voted for the legislation.
287(g) allows local law enforcement agencies like the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office to contract with ICE. Local deputies are trained and deputized to perform certain limited immigration functions. The goal of the program is to determine whether individuals who have been lawfully detained by local law enforcement are in the country illegally. Thanks to this well-established program, federal ICE officials can take custody of such individuals, thereby relieving local law enforcement of the cost and responsibility of housing and caring for them.
Unfortunately, as with many other federal immigration matters, the 287(g) program has become a political football, resulting in far more partisan sniping than fact-based debate. In the Cobb County sheriff’s contest, for example, Warren’s opponent has called for an end to the 287(g) program, claiming it has become a tool for “profiling,” and is a “waste of resources.” Both charges wilt under even cursory examination.
Despite repeated claims by pro-immigration activists at all levels of government that ICE and local law enforcement agencies abuse the 287(g) program to unlawfully “profile” minorities and immigrants, they have produced no evidence. In Cobb (as in other jurisdictions), the training that all participating deputies must receive mandates profiling to play no role whatsoever in the program’s implementation. Each 287(g) contracting agency must certify no discrimination exists or is tolerated, and it will be booted from the program if any such behavior is shown to have occurred.
The charge that Cobb’s participation in 287(g) is a drain on either the County’s coffers or the sheriff’s budget, is similarly unfounded.
Under the program, trained deputies quickly alert ICE when they have taken custody of an individual who cannot establish he or she is lawfully in the United States. This determination is not made arbitrarily and cannot be the basis for an arrest. However, as required by an international treaty to which the United States is a signatory, once arrested the police must ask the individual what is his or her “country of origin.” If the detainee cannot prove he or she is in the United States lawfully, ICE is notified and if the person’s unlawful status is confirmed, they are placed under a detainer.
Once that ICE detainer is emplaced, federal officers may lawfully take custody of the inmate, thereby relieving the local jurisdiction of the responsibility (and the cost). If ICE is unable to immediately take custody of the inmate, the local agency is paid a fee for each day the individual remains at its facility.
From a fiscal standpoint, thanks to Cobb’s participation in the 287(g) program, since 2008 the county has been paid millions of dollars it would not otherwise have received — hardly the “waste of resources” opponents like Owens have charged.
I always have been a supporter of the principle of federalism undergirding our country’s governing structure. Clearly demarcated federal responsibilities like immigration should remain the responsibility of federal agencies, while state and local authorities concern themselves with non-federal matters. The 287(g) program respects that division, but thankfully allows for cooperation on law enforcement matters that often cross all three jurisdictions — federal, state, and local.
Rather than being opposed for all the wrong reasons, 287(g) should be praised as an example of a government program that actually works.