Eli Savit, RaShall M. Brackney and Miriam Aroni Krinsky
Creating a just and humane immigration system is one of the most urgent and challenging issues facing the Biden-Harris administration. And contemporary political rhetoric about immigration often trots out the unfounded, xenophobic and fearmongering argument that cracking down on immigration and immigrants is necessary for public safety. That couldn’t be more wrong.
As law enforcement leaders, we’ve seen firsthand how anti-immigrant policies make everyone less safe. We also understand the profound power of the president to influence immigration policy — in ways that can either promote or threaten public safety.
While comprehensive immigration reform and achieving a just and humane immigration system will require more than executive orders, President Joe Biden can get us closer to these objectives by taking action where he can. The White House recently rescinded rules from the Trump administration that allowed federal immigration officers to use courthouses to target individuals for possible immigration violations.
This is an important step to building community trust, but the president must go further and end, once and for all, programs that entangle local police agencies in federal immigration activities.
The solemn duty of prosecutors and law enforcement leaders is to seek justice, uphold the rule of law and protect the communities they serve. Promoting public safety through justice depends on earning and maintaining the trust of all members of the community — regardless of their immigration status.
More than 100 law enforcement leaders across the nation are urging the Biden administration to end Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) programs like 287(g) agreements and ICE detainers that enlist local law enforcement agencies to engage in interior immigration control efforts. These programs threaten our most vulnerable communities, and in so doing, threaten us all.
The 287(g) program taps local law enforcement officers to perform the duties of federal immigration officials, including ascertaining immigration status, taking immigrants into custody, detaining them and transferring them to ICE. An ICE detainer seeks to engage local law enforcement agencies in locking people behind bars, absent any court order and often after they are legally entitled to be released. These programs are deeply corrosive to public safety as they erode bonds of trust. Biden can end them now.
We’ve seen how these agreements make victims reluctant to report crimes or assist investigators for fear of being detained and deported. Witnesses are silenced, domestic violence and sexual assaults go unreported, and crimes remain unsolved. When any encounter with a police officer has the potential to ruin lives and tear families apart, members of immigrant communities avoid law enforcement at all costs — even when their personal safety, and the safety of their family and the public, is at stake.
Research consistently confirms these concerns. A recent study showed that after a jurisdiction implements a sanctuary policy, Latinos are more likely to go to police when violent crimes occur. And a survey conducted by a University of California professor found that if undocumented immigrants were told that ICE was working with local police, they were less likely to go to law enforcement when they witnessed a crime (a difference of 61% said they would avoid reporting) and when they were victims (a difference of 43%). Claims that these programs are necessary for public safety are often based on harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about immigrant communities. Evidence shows that immigrants are in fact less likely to commit violent crimes than native-born citizens.
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These agreements are also costly, diverting scarce resources — including staff time and taxpayer dollars — that could be dedicated to addressing serious crimes. Prince William County, Virginia, and Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, both recently abandoned their 287(g) programs, citing significant costs.
Local law enforcement is also vulnerable to costly damages in lawsuits for constitutional violations arising from these programs. Los Angeles County recently settled an unlawful detention class action lawsuit for $14 million.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
In growing numbers, local law enforcement officials are speaking out against these misguided programs.
Federal immigration agents must do their jobs, just as local prosecutors and law enforcement must do theirs. However, mixing the two is not only a recipe for disaster for immigrant communities, but also for everyone with a stake in public safety.
Biden agreed with this assessment when he pledged to “end the Trump administration’s historic use of 287(g) agreements” because they “undermine trust and cooperation between local law enforcement and the communities they are charged to protect.”
Pledges are not enough, however. Now he must follow through and bring us one step closer to a new vision for our nation’s immigration system — one that prioritizes safety, humanity and protecting the American dream.
Eli Savit is the prosecuting attorney for Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor), Michigan. RaShall M. Brackney is the chief of police for Charlottesville, Virginia. Miriam Aroni Krinsky is the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution and a former federal prosecutor.