The program, which deputizes local law enforcement to act as immigration agents, has been reshaped to encourage local police to apprehend potentially undocumented residents who have committed major crimes, with special focus on those who have already been incarcerated.
The agency has reined in local police units that target illegal immigrants at large, as these widespread sweeps to apprehend the undocumented are believed to use the law to justify racial profiling. Most prominently, the DHS scaled back the authority it had given to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, according to Arpaio. His operations in the Phoenix metropolitan area had led to charges of racial profiling and three federal investigations.
The Obama administration has made these changes to signal that they are serious about enforcing immigration laws against undocumented immigrants who are dangerous, but are also intent about upholding civil rights.
It is not clear that the switch in focus will limit racial profiling, however.
Omar C. Jadwat, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, cited a report last month by the University of California at Berkeley School of Law as evidence that the administration’s shift to jail checks would encourage some local police to arrest and book more minorities so their immigration status could be determined once they were behind bars. That study found that police in Irving, Tex., working with a separate ICE program, increased arrests of Hispanics for minor offenses by nearly 150 percent between April and September 2007.
“Focusing on jail programs as opposed to these [investigative] task force programs doesn’t eliminate the serious problems we’ve seen with profiling,” Jadwat said.