Senator Chuck Grassley today said that the Department of Homeland Security is making it more difficult for local law enforcement personnel to investigate, apprehend and detain illegal aliens.
Grassley said the department's new policies will weaken the 287(g) program and efforts to enforce the immigration law. Grassley is the author of the program which he said was specifically written to give local law enforcement offices the capability to investigate, apprehend, and detain illegal immigrants by entering into a cooperative agreement with the federal government.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Grassley wrote, "I am concerned that the changes being made will weaken our attempts to arrest and detain illegal immigrants in this country, no matter the magnitude of their crime... I'm afraid that your Department is too much concerned about criminal aliens, and not at all focused on illegal aliens who knowingly broke the law by crossing the border or overstayed a visa."
Grassley also noted that the department's change in the program is contrary to Napolitano's apparent support for the program during a February meeting.
Here is a copy of the text of the letter to Napolitano.
July 14, 2009
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Department of Homeland Security
Dear Secretary Napolitano:
I am dismayed at the recent changes being instituted by your Department with regard to the 287(g) program. When I met with you in February, I was led to believe that you supported this program to assist state and local law enforcement. The changes being forced upon local law enforcement agencies who participate in the program makes me think otherwise. In fact, the changes being asked of those who have a cooperative agreement or plan to enter into one are a step backward in the effort to enforce our country's immigration laws.
As the principal author of Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, I can assure you that Congress fully intended to allow local law enforcement officers to investigate, apprehend, and detain illegal aliens. I wrote this law for people like Justin Younie of Sheldon, Iowa. In 1995, an illegal immigrant was found in our country and ordered deported by our Immigration and Naturalization Service. The illegal alien was transported to the U.S.-Mexico border, but he immediately turned around and returned to the Midwest. This illegal alien took the life of Justin Younie, a college student, because our borders were not secure and local law enforcement didn't have the power to arrest and detain him.
Since 1996, the 287(g) program has proven beneficial to many communities who want to take action against illegal immigration. As you reported to me, there are 66 active Memoranda of Agreements in 23 states. These agreements have identified nearly 112,000 individuals who may be removable.
In addition to getting illegal aliens off our streets, the 287(g) program has the capacity to help our agents protect the homeland from potential terrorists. After September 11, 2001, we learned that 3 of the 19 hijackers had contact with state and local police prior to 9/11. Hijacker Mohamed Atta was stopped by police in July of 2001 in Tamarac, Florida, and ticketed for an invalid license. He ignored the ticket and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. When he was stopped for speeding a few weeks later in a nearby town, the officer, unaware of the bench warrant, let him go with a warning. This contact clearly illustrates that the state and local police are the eyes and ears of our enforcement communities, and are much more likely to come into contact with would be terrorists than our interior federal immigration enforcement agents.
When it was created, the 287(g) program was meant to help officers arrest and detain all illegal immigrants - not just convicted criminals or serious offenders. There is nothing in the Act that requires that the aliens in question be criminal aliens or be convicted of or arrested for other offenses. However, the changes your Department is forcing on agencies implies a three tier system only designed to get convicted criminal aliens off the streets. I am concerned that the changes being made will weaken our attempts to arrest and detain illegal immigrants in this country, no matter the magnitude of their crime. I'm afraid that your Department is too much concerned about criminal aliens, and not at all focused on illegal aliens who knowingly broke the law by crossing the border or overstayed a visa. While it's important to apprehend those who have already committed a crime, I'm afraid these new changes to the 287(g) program may preclude local law enforcement from apprehending illegal aliens who they encounter in the course of their normal duties.
Also, I'm afraid that the Department will view all cooperative agreements as a one-size-fits-all approach while in the past, each agreement has been tailored to the community. In fact, since its inception, we had three models of 287(g) agreements - patrol, task force, and jail based. Your Department seems to be eliminating the patrol model and moving only into jails where aliens are already in custody. If proper training and adequate oversight are in place, why eliminate the patrol model?
If you truly support this program, I would think you'd want to make the program more flexible for local law enforcement agencies. Your Department should also be more inclusive and encouraging for officers to want to undertake the delegation of authority to assist the Department in carrying out its duties. Because you have said that the 287(g) program "has been a successful tool in enforcing immigration law," I trust that you'll be making efforts in the months ahead to increase participation by our local law enforcement agencies so that true enforcement of our laws can be achieved.
Finally, I would respectfully request that you provide me with a copy of the new Memorandum of Agreement template that all agencies are being asked to sign in the coming weeks. I would like a copy of this standard template no later than Friday, July 17.
I appreciate your consideration of this matter, and look forward to hearing from you.
Charles E. Grassley
United States Senator