Section 287 receives longer stay
In a four-to-one vote on Tuesday, the Harris County Commissioner’s Court approved the extension of the controversial Section 287(g) contract, which allows Harris County authorities to act as immigration officers.
Texas American Civil Liberties Union said 287(g) destroys families and leads many Hispanics to distrust law enforcement officers.
‘We think it’s the wrong decision for a couple of reasons; First it’s really a federal responsibility and what participating in this program does, is it puts the liability on Harris County that they don’t have to take on,’ ACLU Texas Director of Policy Rebecca Bernhardt said. ‘ICE agents, whose primary responsibility it is, should take all the liability, because if they make a mistake they take the responsibility not the city of Houston or its tax payers.’
Proponents argue that it is also responsibility for local law enforcements.
‘This is a public safety issue, plain and simple,’ Houston City Council Member Toni Lawrence said. ‘Law enforcement needs to have the tools to keep criminals off the streets, whether those criminals are citizens, legal immigrants or illegal immigrants.’
Lawrence, along with conservative members of the Houston City Council, called a special meeting Wednesday at City Hall to further push for 287(g) beyond county jail facilities and onto street policing.
‘There are two different 287(g) programs, the one is where there is a federal-local partnership with local facilities like the Harris County and the other is where there is a federal-local partnership with local law enforcement. That is where the main controversy lies, with officers out on the street doing federal immigration duties,’ Bernhardt said.
The county budget office estimated the cost of the program in its first year at more than $928,000. Since the county started the program, it has referred more than 10,000 suspected illegal immigrants to ICE officials. According to the Harris County officials, they have received $2.9 million in reimbursement from the U.S. Justice Department for housing illegal immigrants.
Council members Anne Clutterbuck and Mike Sullivan, who also signed the petition to schedule the special meeting, said the policy should be openly discussed and debated by council, not set by mayoral edict.
‘I suspect we will not have quorum, sadly,’ Clutterbuck said.
The three council members who called the meeting were the only attendants, according to a Wednesday the Houston Chronicle article.
‘With 287(g), there is a dramatic increase in detainees. We suggested to the Houston Commissioners Court that the program is tailored to people being asked about their immigration only when they are a serious public safety threat,’ Bernhardt said. ‘Jails are a public safety tool, you want people put in jail who are dangerous not for traffic violations.’
Critics are concerned with the danger of racial profiling.
‘Another issue in the jail screening, is the trickle down impact on street policing,’ Bernhardt said. ‘They make arrests for petty offenses or misdemeanors, particularly in urban areas and within the Latino communities; the Anglos and African American’s get off with a ticket or fine.’
Bernhardt emphasized a study of the Irving Public Jail by the Earl Warren Institute and the Harvard Boalt Law School, where police changed their daily routines to incorporate the 287(g), which led to subsequent arrests of Hispanics for parking tickets.
‘We were at that meeting Tuesday,’ said Students for a Democratic Society member Robinson Block, ‘and we were really disappointed that the county commissioner would choose to use a program that in other city where they have adopted the program studies show law enforcement used racial profiling, especially in a cultural city like Houston where it is so diverse.’