Grassley Questions Immigration Officials’ Commitment to Cooperation with Local Police

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is asking the Obama Administration about how it’s encouraging assistance from local law enforcement to crack down on undocumented criminals.  Grassley’s request comes as the administration announced the release of thousands of criminal immigrants and a dramatic drop in deportation rates despite additional funding for immigration enforcement.

The administration removed fewer undocumented immigrants in 2015 than in any of the previous seven years.  Officials cite limited resources for the decline, even though available resources have actually increased, and federal officials can enlist the help of state and local police to augment their ranks. State and local law enforcement can request the authority to help enforce immigration laws through the 287(g) program, which Grassley helped to established in 1996. Approved officers are trained and overseen by federal officials to assist the government in enforcing immigration laws. This is helpful in instances involving undocumented immigrants who are apprehended for violations of other U.S. laws.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary Sarah Saldaña recently testified that she wants to expand the use of the program and that when local jurisdictions seek to withdraw from the program, federal officials “beg them to stay.” However, the Department of Homeland Security has allowed applications in the program to lag for years, and has outright denied some requests by state and local law enforcement agencies that are interested in assisting the federal government through the 287(g) program.

In a letter to Saldaña, Grassley is asking for details on what the administration is doing to prevent law enforcement agencies from leaving the 287(g) program.  He is also seeking information on agencies that have applied for the program and the status of those applications. 

Grassley was instrumental in establishing the 287(g) program in 1996 to help expand the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws through the supervised support of willing state and local law enforcement jurisdictions across the country.

Full text of Grassley’s letter to Saldaña follows:

May 3, 2016


The Honorable Sarah R. Saldaña
Assistant Secretary
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
500 12th Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20536

Dear Assistant Secretary Saldaña:

In fiscal year 2015, your agency removed the fewest illegal immigrants in the past seven years.  In the last three years alone, your agency released 86,288 individuals in the country illegally, of which 54% were discretionary releases not ordered by a court or because a country would not provide a travel document. You and others in the administration cite the lack of resources available to apprehend and detain more than 400,000 illegal immigrants per year.  Yet, while funding has increased, the number of removals are down -- and well below total removals in previous years and the 400,000 benchmark that this administration has set.  
Local law enforcement can assist the federal government in our efforts to protect the homeland and enforce the immigration law, and such collaboration can be achieved through 287(g) agreements.  Created in 1996, the 287(g) program has the capacity to help our agents and removal officers protect the homeland from potential terrorists and to remove criminal immigrants from our streets. 
In your testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on April 28, 2016, you said, “We have a 287(g) program that we enlist the help of local law enforcement in helping us with immigration enforcement.  There are a number of jurisdictions, and I have asked our people to expand that program.”
When asked about why the program was “shrinking,” you said, “No, sir, it’s not shrinking, other than maybe a jurisdiction withdrawing.  That I can’t control. We beg them to stay, but sometimes, they withdraw based on whatever considerations…”
The fact is that you can help and the agency can do more to prevent jurisdictions from withdrawing from the program. Changes made in recent years have made it difficult for law enforcement to participate, and the fact is, the Department has refused to approve applications for 287(g) authority.  
The Department of Homeland Security should enter into more 287(g) agreements, under both the jail and task force models, and should, to the greatest extent possible, encourage jurisdictions to apply.
To better understand your commitment to the 287(g) program, I would like to know the following: 
1.    How, precisely, have you or other agency officials “begged” jurisdictions to stay in the 287(g) program?  Please provide a list of jurisdictions that you have “begged,” including copies of any written communication with such jurisdictions.  
2.    Which jurisdictions have applied to participate in the 287(g) program in each year since 2009?  Which jurisdictions’ applications have been approved and which have been denied?
3.    According to the below chart provided to the Committee in response to hearing questions, at least ten jurisdictions had applied for 287(g) delegation of authority but were not yet approved or denied.  How many of the ten listed have been approved?  How many applications for 287(g) authority are pending today and for how long have they been pending?  

I request that the Department respond to this letter no later than May 17, 2016. Should you have any question, please contact Kathy Nuebel Kovarik of my Committee staff at (202) 224-5225.?


Charles E. Grassley