The controversial federal program responsible for thousands of deportations in Collier County over the past five years could be on its way out.
Dubbed 287 (g), the program deputized local and state law enforcement officers in 24 states to act as immigration agents and enforce immigration laws since January 2006. Prior to 287(g), named after a section of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, immigration enforcement was the exclusive jurisdiction of federal agencies.
It will be phased out if Congress passes the Department of Homeland Security budget for 2013 as it is currently written.
Allegations of racial profiling and inconsistency with federal deportation priorities have rattled the program, which is run under memorandums of understanding between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies.
If Congress passes the budget it would begin the process of eliminating the 287(g) task forces, with the least productive in terms of removals getting cut first. A date to vote on the budget has not yet been scheduled.
Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said he had been given no indication that his agency's program would be removed.
"We're very fortunate that we do have a very productive unit," he said.
In 2010, an ICE official called Collier County "a model 287(g) site." Since the program's inception, the Sheriff's Office has placed detainers on about 3,800 men and women, about 3,300 of whom have since been deported, according to the sheriff.
"If in fact they were to phase out 287(g) authority, I believe that would be a significant mistake," Rambosk said. "It would be detrimental to our community, I can tell you that."
The 287(g) program gained international attention in Arizona, where Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio made a name for himself with an aggressive anti-illegal immigrant stance. In December 2011, DHS ultimately revoked his agency's federal authority to identify and detain unauthorized immigrants on the grounds of discriminatory policing practices.
Senior-level DHS officials said the 287(g) task forces are no longer useful and would be effectively replaced by the 2013 nationwide rollout of the Secure Communities program. Secure Communities relies on local and federal law enforcement agencies sharing information like fingerprints to identify and remove unauthorized immigrants.
The officials said Secure Communities is more efficient and in line with the three DHS priorities of deporting convicted criminals, egregious immigration law violators, and recent border crossers, and de-emphasizing removals for low-level offenses. Under Secure Communities, arrestees' fingerprints are submitted to criminal and immigration databases to identify criminal aliens.
As with 287(g), opponents question whether discretion is properly used in focusing the program on serious offenders, which DHS has repeatedly stated are priorities for removal.