ACLU Report Details 287(g) Immigration Law Abuses in Cobb County

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(APN) MARIETTA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia released a human rights report Monday, October 12, 2009, that details the impact of the 287 (g) program–which allows local enforcement of federal immigration laws–on Cobb County.

The report, “Terror and Isolation in Cobb: How Unchecked Police Power under 287(g) Has Torn Families Apart and Threatened Public Safety,” is based on interviews with 10 community members directly affected by this program and five community advocates and attorneys based in Cobb County.

The 23-page report argues the 287(g) program lacks the necessary oversight to prevent officers from committing constitutional and human law violations and calls on the Obama Administration to end the program.

The release of the report comes a few days before the October 15 deadline set by the Department of Homeland Security for receipt of comments on existing 287(g) agreements around the country.

“Though initially intended as a measure to combat violent crime and other felonies such as gang activity and drug trafficking, 287(g) agreements have come to undermine police work as immigrant communities, fearful of being deported and leery of local, de facto immigration officers, hesitate to report crime,” the report states.

The Cobb County Sheriff’s Office is one of 77 state and local law enforcement agencies in the United States and one of five in Georgia that use the program, which is made possible by Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The program allows local law enforcement officers to act as immigration officers and participate in enforcement of federal immigration laws, due to a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

BASELESS ARRESTS

The report argues Cobb County officers are using traffic stops and other “baseless arrests” to round up immigrants for deportation.

“In 2008, the Cobb County jail processed 3,180 inmates for ICE detention,” the report notes. “Of those, 2,180 were arrested for traffic offenses — almost 69 percent of the people held on ICE detainers by Cobb County.”

The report includes stories of Cobb residents pulled over for broken taillights, arrested for expired tags, and harassed for not stopping completely at a stop sign, even after several White drivers failed to stop in front of the same police officers.

As a result, these residents no longer feel safe driving in certain neighborhoods and some fear leaving the house.

“I fear the police more than the criminals that might rob me,” a young man named Gabriel told the ACLU.

UNLAWFUL DETENTION

Jamie Hernan, an attorney who has represented many immigrant clients, told the ACLU that Cobb officials retain immigrants unnecessarily and deny bond.

“Jail officials in Cobb County routinely denied detainees bond (and release), thus allowing the officials time to place immigration holds on the detainees in an effort to process them for deportation,” the report said. “Even when detainees were allowed to post bond, jail officials continued to detain the individuals at the Cobb jail and only released them when habeas actions were filed.”

Hernan told the ACLU that because the jail is not equipped to handle such a large population, detainees slept on the floor and were often denied medical care.

“The scale of the violations at the Cobb jail was so massive that we were talking about bringing in international human rights aid,” Hernan said.

The report alleges there is a lack of communication between detainees and the officers because of the absence of interpreters.

As a result, the report said, detainees are coerced to sign documents without consulting an attorney and such action “effectively eliminates any chance to challenge removal proceedings in the future.”

ACCOUNTABILITY

DHS announced July 10 that ICE had standardized MOAs with 11 law enforcement jurisdictions, including the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Department.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in March 2009 that found several 287(g) flaws and made recommendations to DHS that could potentially fix the problems, especially accountability.

The GAO found more than half of the 29 state and local enforcement agencies reviewed had received complaints about how officers are using the 287(g) program, including reports of racial profiling.

“Taken together, the lack of internal controls makes it difficult for ICE to ensure that the program is operating as intended,” the GAO report noted. “ICE and participating agencies used program resources mainly for personnel, training, and equipment, and participating agencies reported activities and benefits, such as a reduction in crime and the removal of repeat offenders.”

After reviewing the newest MOAs, the ACLU determined in July 2009 that any changes the DHS has made little difference.

Instead, last week’s report highlights 287 (g) changes that appear to reduce accountability. For example, the ACLU found law enforcement is no longer required to submit accurate tracking data “that could be used to study the success or failure of the program.”

Other changes could shove the general public out of the discussion. When ICE and law enforcement officers meet, the ICE “may limit the participation of these meetings in regard to non-law enforcement personnel” and documents related to the program may require ICE approval before their release.

“TIME TO END, NOT TO MEND.”

More than 521 organizations called on President Obama in August to end the 287 (g) program. The ACLU’s report calls on Cobb not to renew its MOA with the ICE.

“287(g) has created panic and fear in the Cobb County immigrant community,” the report argues. “The police only exacerbate the mistrust and apprehension of the immigrant community towards law enforcement by using scare tactics and practicing overt racial profiling and intimidation.”

The report also notes that the “egregious constitutional and international human rights violations” at the county jail could “make the county legally liable in domestic courts.”

 

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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