Immigration Enforcement Partnership Program a Mess

In the immigration enforcement racket, you always have to be careful whom you partner with.

Towns and cities in Central California learned that lesson the hard way in the 1970s when a series of joint operations between local police departments and the Border Patrol yielded what you might call uneven results. U.S. immigration officials scooped up a bounty of illegal immigrants that they could deport. The localities got stuck with civil rights lawsuits filed by Mexican-Americans who got caught in the net. The consensus was towns and cities had gotten the short end of the stick.

Before long, city councils throughout the state had passed resolutions prohibiting police departments from cooperating with Border Patrol. It was the birth of so-called sanctuary cities, which have been a political football ever since.

Now the situation is reversed. There is still a partnership, but it’s often the locals that want to rekindle a relationship with the federal government so they help rid their communities of illegal immigrants by harassing anyone who fits the profile. And now, poetically, it’s the federal government -- specifically, the Department of  Homeland Security -- that is in the back seat while local and state police do most of the driving.

The basis for this new relationship is something known as the 287 (g) program, which came about as a result of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The program allows local and state police to enforce federal immigration laws under certain conditions.

For instance, only designated officers are supposed to participate in the program, and only after they receive specialized training by sworn federal immigration agents. Once in the field, those officers are supposed to receive supervision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to make sure they are properly using -- and not abusing -- their new power.

Speaking of abuse of power. Perhaps the most famous expellee from the 287 (g) program is none other than Joe Arpaio, America’s Most Ridiculous Sheriff. He was taken to the woodshed by John Morton, director of ICE, over allegations that the Maricopa Co. sheriff had resorted to racial profiling. Arpaio’s department maintained the power to check the immigration status of prisoners in the jail, but it lost the ability to make that determination in the street. Morton’s shootout with Arpaio seemed to set an early precedent that the federal government would be running the show.

That is no longer the case, according to a new report by the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute. It seems a lot of local and state law enforcement agencies are running wild, and making up their own rules about whom to stop, interrogate, and arrest.