The Department of Homeland Security inspector general released a report last week criticizing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's controversial 287(g) program, which gives state and local law enforcement agencies authority to enforce immigration laws.
Police officers enforcing such laws under the program are not adequately screened, trained or supervised, and the civil rights of immigrants detained are not consistently protected, says the report.
About 60 county and state police forces have signed on to the program, which allows officers to question people about their legal status and detain immigrants for deportation.
According to the inspector general the program does not have adequate safeguards against racial profiling and other civil rights abuses. And local police officers have misused the program by targeting undocumented immigrants who have been arrested for minor offenses.
"We hate to say we told you so, but we have been sounding the alarm about this program for quite some time," said Clarissa Martinez De Castro, with the National Council De La Raza. "The program is ineffective, subject to abuse, and responsible for creating an environment of fear in communities across the country while diverting resources from actual criminal law enforcement."
Civil rights leaders, labor, faith-based and immigrant rights groups including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are calling for the program's complete termination, and urge President Obama to shut it down immediately.
The American Civil Liberties Union supports ending the program noting it has generated a documented history of constitutional violations.
"The report confirms in detail what the ACLU has known for many years - that the 287(g) program, fundamentally flawed and incompletely administered, presents serious civil rights and civil liberties problems for U.S. citizens and immigrants," said Joanne Lin with the ACLU. "ICE has completely shirked its legal duty to train and supervise 287(g) officers and has instead unleashed a slew of unmonitored state and local law officers across America - many of whom are using federal immigration authority as a cloak to engage in racial profiling."
Critics add the report confirms the program abandons constitutional guarantees of fair treatment and due process. Immigration enforcement must respect civil liberties and the current 287(g) program undermines public safety by exacerbating fear of the police in areas already distrustful of law enforcement, they add.
The message is clear, said Cecillia Wang, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "ICE can no longer stand by idly while local agencies use their 287(g) agreements as cover to engage in the rampant abuse of people's constitutional rights," she said. "People in 287(g) communities should have the right to go about their business without being stopped for no other reason than that they 'look foreign' to a police officer."
There is no assurance the program is achieving its goals says the report, which according to top immigration officials, a top priority is to deport immigrants with serious criminal records.
However immigrant rights activists say the real problem is the broken immigration system.
"It's time to stop diverting resources away from criminal law enforcement to a flawed strategy predicated on the fantasy that we can deport our way to a solution to our broken immigration system," said NCLR's Martinez.
"More deportations of parents and workers who are not a threat to the U.S. - and in fact are contributing to the welfare of this country through their work and taxes - is counterproductive and a waste of taxpayer dollars. It's time for Congress, DHS, and the president to deliver real solutions. The answer is comprehensive immigration reform," she said.
Photo: The Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition members march in Ft. Collins, Colo., against unjust enforcement. CIR website