South Sioux City, Neb – Today, the ACLU of Nebraska, Justice for Our Neighbors - Nebraska, Nebraska Appleseed, and Unity in Action urged the Dakota County Commissioners and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a component of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to reject the Dakota County Sheriff’s application to become a part of ICE’s 287(g) immigration enforcement. Under the 287(g) program, local law enforcement agencies agree to dedicate resources, training, and staff time to enforce immigration law on behalf of the federal government. The program has been widely criticized for wasting scarce local resources, eroding trust among immigrant communities, inviting constitutional violations, and compromising public safety.
Sixty law enforcement agencies in 18 states participate in the program but in recent years, more and more localities have left the program, citing the expense. For example, the Harris County, Texas, Sheriff left the program in February saying it would put $675,000 towards investigating major crimes rather than immigration enforcement activities. Prince William County, Virginia, raised property taxes to pay for participation in the program. Currently, no community in Nebraska or neighboring state participates in the program.
“The ACLU opposes this misguided effort by the Dakota County Sheriff to deputize local officers to enforce federal immigration laws. The ACLU has communicated our legal and policy concerns to federal officials and local officials in Dakota County. We are proud to stand with our immigrant neighbors in Dakota County who have the most at stake. We are especially concerned that the Dakota County Sheriff has stated he has a financial motive for taking this action, in order to draw down federal dollars. This demonstrates a troubling misunderstanding of the 287(g) program and discounts the negative experience other law enforcement agencies have encountered such as increased costs for local taxpayers, potential liability for civil rights violations, and negative impacts on community relations which undermines our shared public safety objectives,” said Rose Godinez, Legal & Policy Counsel for the ACLU of Nebraska. "The Dakota County Sheriff's office has a troubled history with discrimination claims and jail overcrowding which are additional factors community members need to know about when evaluating this risky proposition.”
Unity in Action, a Latino community organization from South Sioux City, has been urging residents to share their concerns with the Dakota County Commissioners, who consider the budget of the Dakota County Sheriff and jail. To Unity in Action's Executive Director, Ismael Valadez, this is an issue of trust between local law enforcement and the community.
"287(g) entitles the Sheriff’s office to certain actions that can provoke fear, distrust and strife within our small community. It is the actions that come with the certification that can take this county down a disturbing path. Our community members should live in a community that encourages them and helps them achieve their potential-- not a community that subjects them to fear and distrust."
Law enforcement across the country have rejected these programs for undermining local community policing. Nebraska Appleseed, in collaboration with Justice for Our Neighbors-Nebraska, has been urging local law enforcement agencies to reject the program for years and sees keeping the program out of Nebraska as critical to supporting immigrants and refugees in the state.
"Good police work depends on having the community’s trust, and forcing local police to take on the added burden of serving as immigration agents will make our communities less safe," said Darcy Tromanhauser, director of Nebraska Appleseed's Immigrants & Communities Program. "Police can’t effectively protect public safety when the people they serve are afraid to contact police to report crimes or help with investigations."
In addition to the costs, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association, which includes Omaha, have opposed the program, because it creates distrust with local community members. Some communities have found that immigrants and others concerned about racial profiling are less likely to report crimes or provide information about an investigation when they fear that local law enforcement is supporting federal immigration enforcement activities.
Anna Deal and Dearra Godinez, immigration attorneys with Justice for Our Neighbors-Nebraska, a non-profit organization that provides immigration legal education, advocacy, and direct legal services to individuals in Dakota County, echo this opposition, noting that “[i]f the Dakota County Sheriff enters into a 287(g) Memorandum of Agreement with ICE, it could create a chilling effect: not only might undocumented immigrants and their families be too afraid to report violent crimes against them, but they might also be less willing to report crimes they witness. A 287(g) agreement will likely negatively affect public safety within the region.”
The Department of Homeland Security is accepting public comments on the application until Thursday, November 9. If approved by DHS, the Dakota County Commissioners would, in turn, need to approve the Dakota County Sheriff's budget to approve the costs associated with the 287(g) program. The organizations encourage Dakota County residents to contact the Sheriff’s office and the County Commissioners if they have concerns.