About 520 immigrant, racial justice and civil rights advocacy groups are have rallied to demand that the Obama administration scrap the 287(g) program. A disturbing hallmark of the Bush administration’s law-and-order approach, the program enables federal authorities and local law enforcement to crack down on immigrants. The local-federal collusion has generated a groundswell of opposition over the years for its role in encouraging racial profiling, mass detention and general terrorization of immigrant communities like the warzone sometimes known as Maricopa County, Arizona. Opposition now extends even to police officials, who argue that 287(g) both distracts from real public safety concerns and alienates the communities they’re supposed to protect. The coalition of organizations includes some household names like the ACLU and Drum Major Institute, as well as some less common ones, like the American Postal Workers Union and New Jersey Coalition for Battered Women According to the ACLU’s August 27 announcement, local groups "will host vigils, marches and other activities across the country today and tomorrow condemning the administration’s decision to expand the 287(g) program and asking that the administration terminate the program." Though the Obama administration has pledged to strengthen oversight of the program, it has continued to engage police departments around the country in 287(g) collaborations. In a letter to the Obama administration this week, the coalition called the 287(g) program "dangerous to community safety":
The program has worked counter to community policing goals by eroding trust and cooperation of immigrant communities and diverted already reduced law enforcement resources from their core mission. [Department of Homeland Security’s] proposed changes to the program not only fail to correct its serious flaws but also create new ones.
By throwing down the gauntlet on 287(g), the groups are also presenting Obama with a long overdue test. After months of a drawn-out political waltz with advocacy groups on comprehensive immigration reform, activists are asking for a sign, any sign, that Obama is serious about overturning a status quo that has been tearing communities apart for years. Under current ICE policies, federal criminal prosecutions of immigrants have grown, anti-immigrant sentiment is flaring across the country. And despite reports of more detainee deaths, civil liberties groups say the immigration detention system remains without meaningful legal accountability. 287(g) is just one facet of ICE’s enforcement regime, but it has become a focal point for the movement because it represents how both the previous and current administrations have ignored and undermined the rights of immigrants. Yet the effort also shows how far the battle line has slipped from the ultimate goal of comprehensive reform. The hundreds of groups rallying around 287(g) will need to continue raising their voices in unison if they’re to have any chance of moving the debate from defending immigrants from criminalization toward advocating for legalization. Image: Protest against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (Standing FIRM)