Arizona county deported 26,146

Action taken via federal program

By Suzanne Gamboa
Associated Press / July 29, 2010

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WASHINGTON — Officers from a single Arizona county helped deport more than 26,000 immigrants from the United States through a federal-local partnership program that has been roundly criticized as fraught with problems.

Statistics obtained by the Associated Press show that the Maricopa County sheriff’s office was responsible for the deportation or forced departure of 26,146 immigrants since 2007.

That is about a quarter of the national total of 115,841 sent out of the United States by officers in 64 law enforcement agencies deputized to help enforce immigration laws, some since 2006, under the so-called 287(g) program.

The tens of thousands of immigrant arrests show local officials already have a significant amount of authority to enforce immigration laws and help remove illegal immigrants from the country.

Arizona wanted more of its officers to be able to ask people to prove they are legally in the United States under its law that will take effect today. But yesterday, a US District Court judge blocked the most controversial parts of the law.

Among the parts of the law blocked is the section requiring officers to ask for a driver’s license, passport, or other identity document if they reasonably suspect a person is in the United States illegally.

The immigration checks were to be made by officers while enforcing other laws or ordinances.

The federal government already is under fire, accused of doing a poor job of keeping watch on local officers enforcing immigration laws and ensuring safeguards for protecting civil rights are in place. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is the top law officer among all those deputized. He is under federal investigation on allegations of civil rights violations, which he denies.

The government had argued that the Arizona law usurps its authority. The Justice Department said in its suit challenging the law that the 287(g) federal-local partnerships are one way Congress allowed states to assist in enforcing immigration laws.

“At the pragmatic level, if local police are already allowed to do this and are allowed to do this with federal cooperation with the state, then why do they need the [new Arizona] law?’’ said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the New York office of the Migration Policy Institute, an immigration think tank.

There are several other ways local officials can assist, including Secure Communities, a more widely used program that allows local officials to check the fingerprints of anyone they book into their jails against FBI and Homeland Security Department databases.

But the 287(g) program gives officers the most direct authority to stop people on the street, in their cars, or in their communities and check whether they are in the country illegally.

Federal watchdogs have been critical of the job that the Homeland Security Department has been doing in running the program.

The department’s inspector general reported in March that the 287(g) program was poorly supervised and provided insufficient training to officers, including on civil rights law.

Local officers have operated outside agreements dictating the limits of their authority, the report said. In all, the inspector general made 33 recommendations for overhauling the program, some not yet resolved.