A project of the Center for Community Change

My local government is considering an MOU [memorandum of understanding], but what is that?

Immigration and Nationality Act and Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act 1996- Section 287G

In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.  One of the most important components of this Act is the addition to the Immigration and Nationality Act of the Section 287(g) agreement which is also known as a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). 

Under Section 287(g), state and local police who want to enforce federal immigration laws can receive training by entering in to a formal agreement with the federal government and assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in enforcing federal immigration laws (www.immigrationforum.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=843). In general, the state and local police have the authority to identify, arrest and process immigration offenders encountered during regular law-enforcement activity.
States can join the program by establishing a MOU between the state and Department of Homeland Security. They can then enroll state and local officers who are certified by ICE to conduct investigations and arrests (“Web Memo: The Solution for Immigration Enforcement at the State and Local Level” https://www-hsdl-org.proxyau.wrlc.org/homesec/docs/infra/nps10-120506-12.pdf&code=66eb575f55f5da739d5ba8bb3e77409d).

In order to be a part of the program, the officer must be a U.S citizen, have three years of law enforcement experience, and have at least an associate degree. The training program consists of a review of the MOU and instruction in the various immigrant-related law enforcement functions the officers might engage in. In addition to this, they are trained in cross-cultural awareness, when to use force, civil rights law, and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Currently, ICE has 287(g) MOUs with the following Departments: Alabama Department of Public Safety/State Police, the Arizona Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. In addition to these, ICE also has MOUs with the county sheriff’s departments in Maricopa County, Arizona; Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties, California; Cobb County, Georgia; Alamance, Gaston and Mecklenburg counties, North Carolina; and Davidson County, Tennessee (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement,

Fact Sheets: http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/070511factsheet287gprogover.htm).
Over the past 11 years during which state and local police have continued to sign on to the MOU, there have been backlashes among the immigrant communities in those states that are participating in the program.

The National Immigration Forum gives a number of reasons why Section 287(g) is disadvantageous to communities, and why many state and local governments are against the idea of being part of the program. One of the biggest reasons they state is that the state and local police in many places have spent years trying to build a trusting relationship with the immigrant communities. They know that if they participate in the program, many immigrants will be scared to come in contact with the state and local officials, for fear that their immigration status may be discovered.

Another big problem with this law is the threat of racial profiling becoming more widespread. By giving state and local officers the authority to check immigrant status, they will be more likely to be suspicious of foreign looking or sounding people. According to the National Immigration Forum, previously when state and local police have tried to enforce immigration laws, they have been hit with expensive lawsuits, since they invariably use profiling to decide whom to question and detain. 

Before September 11, 2001 no state or local police had signed on to an MOU. However, as of the 14th of May, 2007, 11 States have established MOUs with DHS, and more will continue to become a part of the program over the coming months . By delegating immigration law enforcement authority to state and local police, the government is increasing distrust of the police by immigrants, and creating an unsafe environment for everyone. 

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