Houston Chronicle by Susan Carroll
Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia is leading an effort to block proposed budget cuts in the controversial 287(g) program that has helped local law enforcements authorities identify more than 275,000 undocumented immigrants in their custody.
President Obama, in his 2013 budget blueprint released Monday, requested a $17 million reduction – or 27 percent – for 287(g) operations by law enforcement agencies across the country.
The Department of Homeland Security, which administers the Immigration and Customs Enforcement program, says it plans to discontinue “the least productive” 287(g) partnerships with local authorities in order to meet the funding cut.
In a hearing before the House Committee on Homeland Security on Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano argued that another immigration-status screening program, dubbed “Secure Communities,” can also meet the goals of 287(g), which is named for the 1990s immigration statute that created it. Napolitano said Secure Communities is more “consistent, efficient and cost-effective.”
But Garcia and Texas lawmakers led by Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin say Napolitano’s decision would be devastating to local law enforcement.
“Elimination of 287(g) would mean the failure to refer to ICE for possible removal many violent, dangerous, experienced criminals who had no previous contact with ICE before being charged with a state crime in Harris County,” Garcia said.
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Nearly 31,000 convicted criminals have been identified and deported under this program in Texas, according to data issued by the federal agency this month.
The three Texas agencies that participate in 287(g) are the Carrollton and Farmers Branch Police Departments near Dallas and the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
Garcia’s office teamed with ICE in mid-2008 to run 287(g) at the county jail. Eighteen Harris County sheriff’s deputies have been trained by ICE agents on immigration law through this partnership.
The 287(g) program allows local deputies to question individuals – regardless of their crime – about their immigration status when they arrive at the jail. Deputies then can place holds, commonly known as detainers, on the inmates they deemed to be in the country illegally. Thus, when the suspected undocumented immigrants are released from jail, deputies can turn them over to ICE.