Some Police Agencies Resist New Immigration Controls

Some state and local police are having second thoughts about working with the federal government to enforce immigration laws.

Under what's known as the 287(g) program, agencies sign a voluntary agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are trained to check legal status of prisoners and crime suspects, and to initiate deportations. The contract can specify enforcement in jail, in the community or both.

Several police agencies have complained that new rules set by the Obama administration would cost too much time and money and, in some cases, damage their relationship with immigrants.

The Framingham Police Department in Massachusetts ended its contract Oct. 1 because the new agreement would have given officers a more active role in deporting illegal immigrants, which its budget won't allow, Lt. Paul Shastany said. The department originally joined 287(g) to have access to ICE databases for criminal investigations, he said.

Houston probably won't join the program, said Frank Michel, Mayor Bill White's spokesman.

The contract "requires that we essentially train officers to be immigration enforcement officers on the street," Michel said. If crime victims "fear that we will snatch them up and deport them off the street, we find we don't have the level of trust we need."

The city is considering a different ICE program that is mainly information-sharing, not enforcement.

The new contract urges a focus on immigrants in jail, or convicted or arrested in drug or violent crimes, not those linked to minor offenses like traffic violations, ICE spokesman Richard Rocha said.

Wednesday was the deadline for new contracts. Until then, 66 agencies participated and 11 planned to join, Rocha said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which runs the program in its jail, is still in discussions with ICE. Supervisor Michael Antonovich has requested a 90-day extension, said Anna Pembedjian, his justice deputy.

"They want to increase the responsibility of the sheriff's department, and we are certainly concerned about that," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore. He would not elaborate.

In the case of Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, ICE limited the contract, the sheriff said.

The department is under investigation by the Justice Department for alleged racial profiling and discrimination on the basis of national origin. Arpaio has conducted controversial street sweeps targeting illegal immigrants.

Now ICE has stripped him of immigration authority outside the jail, Arpaio said. Rocha would not comment on that except to say, "As Sheriff Arpaio knows, no final decisions have been made."

Arpaio said he still will conduct sweeps under state law: "It's against my principles to let illegal aliens just go out on the streets again," he said. "They're criminals."