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Democrats push to end ICE partnerships amid calls for police reform

A new bill seeks to repeal the controversial 287(g) program, which allowed state and local law enforcement officers to act as immigration officials.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland's confirmation hearing on Feb. 22, 2021.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., speaks during Merrick Garland's confirmation hearing for the position of attorney general, on Feb. 22, 2021.Al Drago / Pool via Reuters file

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., is introduced new legislation Thursday to end partnerships between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws.

The PROTECT Immigration Act seeks to repeal the controversial 287(g) program, which allows state and local law enforcement departments to enter into an agreement with ICE to help with immigration law enforcement functions.

At least 32 law enforcement agencies in 16 states are currently engaged in these agreements, according to Booker's office.  

“Immigration enforcement should not be delegated to state and local police departments that are not equipped to enforce immigration laws — it is the job of the federal government," he told NBC News in a statement. “These agreements undermine public safety and result in the racial profiling and harassment of members of the immigrant community.”

Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and  Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., are co-sponsors of the bicameral bill.

The House version of the legislation will be introduced by Rep. Michael Quigley, D-Ill., and co-sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

Their calls to terminate mechanisms that facilitate cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement officials come as conversations about police reform gain prominence following a series of high profile cases of police brutality and racial injustice.

The move from lawmakers follows a letter Booker sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas this month urging him to end 287(g) agreements because they "undermine public safety and result in the racial profiling and harassment of immigrant communities."

"This would represent a critical step in disentangling federal immigration enforcement from state and local law enforcement, and improve the enforcement of our nation’s federal immigration laws," he told Mayorkas.

"A critical step"

Immigrant rights organizations such as the National Immigrant Justice Center have called for a full separation between the U.S. criminal legal system and the civil immigration enforcement, starting by ending "coordination and cooperation between local criminal law enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities."

Immigration enforcement actions at the hands of local authorities have resulted in racial profiling across immigrant communities, harassment and in reluctancy from survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and human trafficking to report such crimes to law enforcement out of fear. This is particularly evident in jurisdictions where 287(g) agreements exist, according to the Center For Migration Studies, a nonpartisan think tank.

For Quigley, "ending programs that turn local law enforcement into immigration enforcement departments is a critical step in the process of returning to an immigration system that prioritizes justice over fear.”

“The Trump administration’s policies spent years fomenting a culture of fear in immigrant communities and eroding the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they protect," he said in a statement. “We must enact legislation that ensures immigration enforcement always remains the purview of the federal government because local and state law enforcement already have a job to do — protecting and serving their communities.”

Back in 2011, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security admitted that 287(g) agreements resulted in racial profiling and unconstitutional police practices within the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, resulting in the termination of its 287(g) jail model agreement.

For Jayapal, ending 287(g) agreements means putting "an end to our country’s long history of targeting, profiling, and tearing apart immigrant communities while criminalizing those who call them home.”

“A critical first step is ending the unnecessary deputization of local and state police departments to enforce outdated federal immigration law," she said in a statement. "Doing so will not only make our communities more safe, but will begin to humanely reform our broken immigration system so it’s focused on dignity, fairness, and family unity.”

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