Despite continuing criticism about the program, authorities announced Friday that 67 local and state law enforcement agencies across the country would continue enforcing immigration law under special agreements with the federal government, but that they would be subject to more oversight.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also limited the authority of the most controversial participant, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., who is under investigation by the Department of Justice for possible civil rights violations. Arpaio can still identify illegal immigrants in the jails but can no longer conduct immigration sweeps in his community under the federal program known as 287(g).
ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton said Arpaio's sweeps were "not consistent" with the agency's priorities.
Morton announced in July that the program, which has drawn criticism about racial profiling and civil rights violations, would continue but that every agency wanting to participate would have to sign a new agreement by this week. Under the revised guidelines, the police agencies would have to focus on serious criminals and would be bound by civil rights and constitutional laws.
"The new 287(g) very clearly lays out the priorities for the program and the intention for ICE and the partnering agencies to focus on serious criminal offenders," Morton said.
Since 287(g) began, more than 1,000 local officers have been trained to enforce immigration law. More than 130,000 illegal immigrants have been identified under it, according to officials. In 2009, roughly 24,000 illegal immigrants identified have been deported.
In California, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department has reached an agreement to continue screening for illegal immigrants at the jails but is awaiting approval by county supervisors. Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside county sheriff's departments are still negotiating their agreements with the federal government.
Of the 67 agreements announced Friday, 55 have been confirmed and 12 are awaiting approval by local agencies, federal authorities said. Ten new agencies are participating, and six elected to drop out.
The proposed agreement in Los Angeles County would give the sheriff's department more responsibility in processing illegal immigrants for possible deportation, according to a recent report by Merrick Bobb, special advisor to the supervisors. The additional responsibilities would require that the custody assistants begin the screening process before inmates are convicted, rather than after conviction, contrary to the supervisors' original direction to the sheriff's department, Bobb said.
Carl Bergquist, a policy advocate at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said immigration officials will have to prove that the oversight is sufficient throughout the nation.
"I think it's definitely wait and see," he said. "There was supposed to be some kind of oversight under the old program. That was never the case."