By Courtney Maurer, Director of Research 

Since its founding, the United States has had a complicated relationship with immigration, favoring certain immigrant groups and holding anti-immigrant sentiments towards others. This anti-immigrant sentiment has been embodied in several laws passed over centuries. Presently there is one particular immigration law that tends to be overlooked and unfamiliar to many Americans; it is colloquially known as “287(g) contracts.” These contracts are named after section 287(g) which is an amendment of the Immigration and Nationality Act that congress passed in 1996. The 287(g) amendment allows formal contacts to be made between the Department of Homeland Security and state or local police departments that allow trained law enforcement officers to perform functions usually assigned to federal immigration agents. Once 287(g) agreements are negotiated, the contract and deputized officers are supervised by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Although the 287(g) program was authorized by Congress in 1996, the first agreement was not made until 2002, by the state of Florida shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Since then, communities have been driven apart and valuable community resources continue to be used to advance ICE’s oversight and involvement in immigration matters on a local level.  There is evidence that these agreements create community divides, residents of Latino/Hispanic decent experience racial profiling, and the agreements are not cost-effective. At Refugees Welcome!, we reject the notion that 287(g) agreements create a safe environment.

There are two types of 287(g) agreements: the Jail Enforcement Model (JEM) and the Warrant Service Officer Model (WSOM). According to ICE, the JEM “…is designed to identify and process removable aliens with criminal or pending criminal charges who are arrested by state or local [law enforcement agencies].” In this model, trained local law enforcement officers do not carry out the arresting functions of federal immigration agents; however, they are trained and have permission to interrogate individuals on behalf of ICE and place detainers on individuals they believe to be undocumented immigrants.

ICE describes the WSOM as an agreement where “…nominated state and local law enforcement officers will be trained, certified, and authorized by ICE to perform limited functions of an immigration officer within the law enforcement agency’s jail and/or correctional facilities.” In contrast to the JEM, the WSOM trains law enforcement officers to perform arrests on behalf of ICE and carry out ICE warrants within their correction/jail facilities; WSO trained officers are not allowed to interrogate individuals like the JEM officers are.

As of January 2021, ICE has 72 active JEM agreements with law enforcement agencies across 21 states and 76 active WSOM agreements with law enforcement agencies across 11 states; 49 of these WSOM agreements are within Florida alone.  Locally, four law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts have 287(g) contracts and all four contracts were renewed on June 6, 2020:  

  • Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office – Jail Enforcement Model 
  • Bristol County Sheriff’s Office – Jail Enforcement Model
  • Massachusetts Department of Corrections- Jail Enforcement Model
  • Plymouth County Sheriff’s Department- Jail Enforcement Model

Currently, Massachusetts is the only New England state with active 287(g) agreements and is home to a large number of immigrants. The most recent data collected by the American Immigration Council shows that 1.2 million immigrants, 250,000 being undocumented immigrants, live and work in Massachusetts. The active 287(g) contracts along with Governor Baker’s opposition to the Safe Communities Act bill creates an anti-immigrant rhetoric among our communities where immigrants contribute culturally, economically, and within the local labor workforce. Even though Barnstable, Bristol, and Plymouth county are not home to a large number of immigrants, Massachusetts should ban 287(g) contracts across the state to create unity and an inclusive environment among all residents. 

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center states that these contracts create hostile environments nationwide where both  immigrant and U.S. born Latino/Hispanic citizens residents are racially profiled and harassed by law enforcement and the general public at an increased rate. The increase of profiling and harassment leads both undocumented and documented immigrants  to isolate themselves from their communities and decline business transactions in order to avoid giving personal information due to the fear of family separation, racial profiling, and experiencing civil rights violations. Additionally, immigrants may feel more hesitant to call first responders in emergencies in fear of being profiled and interrogated. 

In contrast, ICE markets their 287(g) program as an effective way to “[enhance] the safety and security of communities by creating partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies to identify and remove aliens who are amenable to removal from the United States”. Additionally, on their website ICE sets the tone that the 287(g) program keeps gang members, sex offenders, and murderers from being released back into the community, highlighting the most extreme offenses. Their website does not mention how many immigration detainers are given to undocumented immigrants who committed low-level and misdemeanors offenses. While the program does assist ICE in deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed felonies, the number of felony deportations are likely much lower than what communities are led to believe this program produces. 

Lastly, the costs of 287(g) agreements are relatively unknown to most communities. According to the American Immigration Council “ICE covers the cost of training deputized officers, but state and local governments have to pay the majority of costs associated with a 287(g) program, including travel, housing, and per diem for officers during training; salaries; overtime; other personnel costs; and administrative supplies” in addition to only a fraction of detainment costs being refunded by the federal government. It is difficult to find the cost of 287(g) agreements for each law enforcement agency; however, Prince William Times, a local newspaper for Prince William County, VA, published a story regarding the renewal of the county’s 287(g) agreement in August 2019, which reported that from 2012-2019 Prince William County spent $2,480,348 (an average of $310,000 a year) on jail staffing costs related to its 287(g) agreement. Although the county defended the cost by stating it would be much more expensive without the reimbursement from ICE and the federal government, that is still almost 2.5 million dollars that could have been put towards education, transportation, and other community services. In 2017, Fort Bend, Texas Sheriff Troy Nehls said that he would not renew the county’s 287(g) contract since it would require him to spend $500,000 of taxpayers money just to send six personnel members to a four week training. The $500,000 would only cover the cost of training and did not include the other expenses related to 287(g) contracts. 

Anti-immigrant tactics and sentiments are more common in some areas of the country than others, but every community needs to fully grasp the consequences and costs that come with 287(g) contracts before supporting local officials who are proponents of the program. Local law enforcement officers should not be directed to complete the work of federal immigration agents and instead be focusing on the needs of their local communities. Communities should reject 287(g) agreements and the demagoguery that is used to market these agreements as positive initiatives. ICE was created to carry out specific duties and actions in regards to undocumented immigration; these duties should stay within ICE and only be carried out by official federal immigration agents. This would put money back into communities and free up local law enforcement officers where their time could be better spent serving their community.  Refugees Welcome! encourages communities across the U.S. to support local officials that will work to create an inclusive environment and put resources to better use.  

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