Thursday, April 29, 2010

The 287(g) program and Arizona immigration law--a human rights issue

In light of the recent immigration bill passed in Arizona, which gives police the right to stop and verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being illegal, I was reminded of a federal program that was implemented in Nashville in 2007: the 287(g) program.

First of all, what exactly is the 287(g) program? Here's a basic primer from the U.S. Customs website at

Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g)Immigration and Nationality Act

"ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) developed the ACCESS program in response to the widespread interest from local law enforcement agencies who have requested ICE assistance through the 287(g) program, which trains local officers to enforce immigration law as authorized through section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Terrorism and criminal activity are most effectively combated through a multi-agency/multi-authority approach that encompasses federal, state and local resources, skills and expertise. State and local law enforcement play a critical role in protecting our homeland because they are often the first responders on the scene when there is an incident or attack against the United States. During the course of daily duties, they will often encounter foreign-born criminals and immigration violators who pose a threat to national security or public safety."

"The cross-designation between ICE and state and local patrol officers, detectives, investigators and correctional officers working in conjunction with ICE allows these local and state officers: necessary resources and latitude to pursue investigations relating to violent crimes, human smuggling, gang/organized crime activity, sexual-related offenses, narcotics smuggling and money laundering; and increased resources and support in more remote geographical locations."

The Immigration and Customs website contains a section called "Success Stories." They failed to report the following:

"In July 2008, Berry Hill Police stopped a very pregnant Juana Villegas for apparently changing lanes without a turn signal. Instead of avoiding detention, Villegas was jailed, went into labor, was transported to Metro General Hospital (and reportedly shackled to a bed), gave birth and went hours without seeing her child and days without seeing her husband. The deportation process was begun for her before charges were dropped under the glare of local and national media exposure of the case."--The City Paper, October 26, 2009

What makes this situation much worse is that it is actually policy to lock-down in handcuffs any women who were in custody while in labor. This is a policy that treated human beings worse than animals. Criminal or not, a civilized nation should not tolerate such abuses.

So while 287 (g) may be a worthwhile program, in theory, at identifying people who enter the U.S. illegally and who are also criminals, is the risk of abuse to law-abiding citizens, and even law-abiding non-citizens, worth the cost?

The problem here is that the door has now been opened to unchecked racist actions by Metro police in Nashville, and the unfettered arrest and deportation of people based on activities that are not defined by what this proposal was originally meant to be used for. Small traffic offenses that would oftentimes be overlooked by patrolling police officers provide an excuse for profiling in order to possibly catch an illegal immigrant.

The similarities between 287(g) and the Arizona law SB 1070 are obvious. They both invite legalized racism, human rights abuses by police who are angry at the influx of illegals to their state, and the potential to overwork the police force more than they are already overworked.

It's a fact that illegal immigration is straining our resources as a nation, especially in the area that I'm most familiar with--medicine. Hundreds of hospitals and emergency departments, forced to give free care under EMTALA to people who don't pay, have had to close down due to the high percentage of unreimbursed care.

However, the old argument that illegals should be denied rights in this country does not hold up in this situation. Why? Because your rights are sure to be violated in Arizona if you are legal, but don't have the proper paperwork to prove your citizenship at the moment of your police encounter. Americans are not required to carry such identification. And once jailed, the possibility of enduring physical and emotional abuse is real. Therefore, the Arizona law has the potential to violate basic human rights, as well as current federal law.

If you are brown-skinned and live in Arizona, because of this law, you will no longer be free. You are now a potential target for unwarranted harassment. Some people are okay with that and say that this draconian measure is necessary in order to prevent our country from turning into a "Brave New World" situation. But we must remember that when the rights of one group are violated, especially based on ethnicity, we are all violated. How? By dangerous precedent. Have we already forgotten the plight of the innocent Japanese people who were interred during World War II, simply for the way they looked?


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