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ICE's 287(g) Immigration Enforcement Program Is Not Targeted Primarily at Serious Offenders, New MPI Study Finds
Press Release
Monday, January 31, 2011

ICE's 287(g) Immigration Enforcement Program Is Not Targeted Primarily at Serious Offenders, New MPI Study Finds

WASHINGTON — The section 287(g) program, which delegates federal immigration enforcement powers to state and local officers in 72 U.S. jurisdictions, is not targeted primarily at serious offenders, a major new analysis of the program finds.
Despite public statements by Obama administration officials that the program is primarily targeted at identifying and removing “dangerous criminals,” Migration Policy Institute (MPI) researchers found that about half of 287(g) activity involves non-citizens (chiefly unauthorized immigrants but also removable legal immigrants) arrested for misdemeanor or traffic offenses.
The MPI report, Delegation and Divergence: A Study of 287(g) State and Local Immigration Enforcement, is based on in-depth, on-site interviews with federal, state and local law enforcement, elected officials, immigrant- and civil-rights groups and others in seven 287(g) jurisdictions (Los Angeles, CA; the state of Colorado; Cobb and Gwinnett counties in metro Atlanta, GA; Frederick County, MD; Las Vegas, NV; and Prince William County, VA). The report also analyzes 2010 data from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on the seriousness of criminal offenses committed by non-citizens detained through 287(g) activity nationwide; and provides data for each 287(g) jurisdiction.
The report assesses outcomes of the three different 287(g) models – screening of immigration status in jails, by task forces operating in the field and hybrid models that combine jail screening and field operations – as well as program costs and community impacts. It also examines the implementation of the Obama administration's 2009 formal program changes emphasizing that 287(g) activities should focus first and foremost on non-citizens who have committed felonies and other serious crimes.
Among the report’s top findings:

  • Contrary to public perception, 287(g) is almost entirely a jail program, with the 19 jail models accounting for 90 percent of the 48,000 detainers issued in fiscal 2010 to hold people on immigration charges. Task force models, which have been controversial in Maricopa County, AZ and elsewhere, accounted for just 2 percent of 287(g) activity.
  • Some jurisdictions operate highly “targeted” versions of the program, aimed primarily at identifying serious criminal offenders, while others pursue more “universal” enforcement strategies designed to detain and remove as many unauthorized immigrants as possible. The universal versions of the program are particularly concentrated in the Southeast, which accounts for the 10 jurisdictions with the largest share of detainers placed on traffic violators.
  • The Obama administration's 2009 formal program changes and requirement that partner agencies re-negotiate their agreements have not substantially changed program priorities, operations, outcomes or community impacts.
  • ICE closely supervises 287(g) officers in the seven study sites, but allows state and local partner agencies to set their own enforcement priorities. Use of the program varied substantially among the sites, with Las Vegas placing more than half of its detainers in 2010 on Level 1 offenders arrested for violent or major drug crimes while traffic offenders accounted for more than 60 percent of detainers in Cobb and Frederick counties.

“Our study highlights the absence of a clear and comprehensive interior immigration strategy,” said MPI Senior Policy Analyst Randy Capps, a report co-author. “Looking at the 287(g) program, it is not clear if the Obama administration supports universal immigration enforcement and the goal of ‘attrition through enforcement’ or if it favors targeted enforcement that focuses on high-priority cases and directs resources to the greatest threats.”
These findings have implications for the Secure Communities program, which ICE intends to expand to every state prison and local jail by 2013. Secure Communities permits ICE officers to remotely determine inmates’ immigration status by screening their fingerprints against federal databases.

The MPI report found more significant negative impacts in communities where 287(g) is implemented in universal fashion and traffic offenders comprise a large share of program activity. “We recommend that ICE use its oversight authority to genuinely ensure that the 287(g) program functions consistently from place to place, according to the targeted enforcement model promoted in the 2009 program revisions and in public statements made by DHS and ICE leadership,” said another report co-author, MPI Senior Policy Analyst Marc Rosenblum.
Among the other recommendations: That 287(g) officers place detainers only after conviction for serious offenses or prior immigration violations; and that ICE discontinue 287(g) agreements with jurisdictions where evidence of racial profiling or other civil-rights violations emerge.
The 287(g) report is available here.


The Migration Policy Institute is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, D.C. dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national and international levels. For more on MPI, please visit www.migrationpolicy.org.