USA Today by Alan Gomez
WASHINGTON — An immigration enforcement program that trains local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws has not been used to target illegal immigrants who commit the most serious crimes, according to a report released Monday.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said the federal government will focus on catching and deporting dangerous illegal immigrants. Yet half of the roughly 27,000 illegal immigrants deported in fiscal year 2010 through the 287(g) program, where federal immigration agents train and supervise local police officers, were initially arrested on misdemeanor or traffic offenses, according to the report published by the Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan research group.
Some viewed those figures as proof that the program is being abused by local authorities who are simply trying to rid their communities of growing numbers of legal and illegal immigrants.
"Nobody disputes the need to get rid of dangerous people, of drug dealers," said David Leopold, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "But when the effect is to split up families and to chase people out of the country who might otherwise help the country, you've got to scratch your head and wonder 'What is the point of this program?' "
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The report also found that law enforcement agencies in the Southeast had the highest percentage of deportations that started out as traffic arrests. In nine agencies, more than 50% of deportations started as traffic offenses. Eight of those nine agencies were in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina.