“If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we [ICE] can make him disappear.” So said James Pendergraph, former Executive Director of the ICE Office of State and Local Coordination, in August 2008. I was in attendance at the Police Foundation National Conference where he made this bold assertion, and I couldn’t believe my ears. I actually asked the person next to me if he had just said what I thought he had just said and she affirmed it. Yes, he had just told an audience of police officers, sheriffs and other law enforcement personnel that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could make people disappear. Was I in Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorship? Argentina during the dirty war? Sri Lanka, Iran or some other country where public officials boldly and publicly asserted such an awesome and illegal power? No, I was in the United States, where many ICE officers and their delegates run amok with almost no oversight or accountability.
More scary: in August 2008 James Pendergraph was in charge of managing and overseeing the 287(g) program, which delegates federal immigration enforcement authorities to state and local law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, it is not at all shocking that today the DHS Office of the Inspector General released a report on the 287(g) program outlining a variety of grave concerns including woefully inadequate safeguards against racial profiling and other civil rights violations, deficient training and supervision of 287(g) empowered police officers, misuse of the 287(g) authority, including one incident in which the victim in an accident was brought to a jail to be processed for deportation, and misleading information to the public about the 287(g) program from the highest levels of ICE leadership to sheriffs on the ground – unfortunately, also not out of the ordinary these days.
For many years, communities subject to the 287(g) program have raised and fought against a variety of unconstitutional acts by police officers acting under this authority. Without a meaningful complaint mechanism the denigration of their human and constitutional rights has continued without acknowledgement or remedy. In fact, it is the outrageous position of ICE that it has no legal responsibility for the actions of 287(g) officers, even though Memorandums of Agreement make clear that law enforcement may only perform immigration enforcement activities under ICE supervision.
Today’s report from the OIG is important and timely. ICE has repeatedly stated that it must do better and can do better at prioritizing who is arrested, detained and deported, and what conditions they will be held in while their fate is decided. Here are a few ideas for how to turn this rhetoric into reality:
• Stop the use and misuse of state and local police officers by suspending all 287(g) agreements.
• Develop performance goals for 287(g) officers that do not focus on the number of immigrants encountered by officers as it incentives unjustifiable stops and arrests.
• Ensure that the training and guidance provided to 287(g) officers thoroughly prepares them to make critical decisions, including whether they will deprive people of their liberty, separate them from their families, and exile them to countries they may not know and governments they may well fear.
• Train all officers, including DHS officers, that every person stopped by a law enforcement officer has fundamental human rights that cannot be denied or ignored including :
o Freedom from torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (ICCPR and CAT),
o Freedom from discrimination such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status (ICCPR),
o Recognition as a person before the law (ICCPR),
o Freedom of thought, conscience and religion (ICCPR),
o Best attainable standard of physical and mental health (ICESCR, ICERD, CEDAW, CRC), and
o Adequate food and water (ICESCR, CRC, CEDAW).