The following op-ed appeared in the Houma Courier on October 11, 2019. 

News that local sheriff’s deputies recently completed a training with federal immigration authorities should be troubling to every resident of Terrebonne Parish.

The training was conducted as part of the Parish’s 287(g) agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which deputizes local law enforcement with immigration enforcement powers. The federal government has expanded these agreements, and it’s disappointing that Terrebonne Parish is going along with this counterproductive approach. 

Far from protecting public safety, these agreements actively undermine public safety by discouraging immigrant victims from seeking help, effectively shielding perpetrators from the law.

Local law enforcement is only as strong as the bonds of trust they have with the community. That means making sure victims feel safe reporting a crime or showing up at the courthouse to testify. These agreements betray that trust by entangling local law enforcement agencies with federal immigration authorities who do not share the same goals. 

That’s why leading law enforcement organizations, including the Major Cities Chiefs Association, oppose these agreements.  

In addition to undermining public safety, 287(g) agreements also raise serious concerns for civil rights. The 287(g) program has been known to lead to the unconstitutional racial profiling of immigrants, as was seen when Sheriff Joe Arpaio terrorized immigrant communities in Arizona. Arpaio’s unlawful hard-line tactics ultimately cost taxpayers $70 million in legal fees. 

Here in Louisiana, sheriff’s deputies in Ascension Parish were so eager to collaborate with ICE that they held a U.S. citizen, Ramon Torres, for four days – despite the fact that Torres had a U.S. passport, a Louisiana driver’s license, and a Social Security card, and despite the fact that a court had ordered his release. Staff at the sheriff’s office admitted they had a policy of detaining all Latinx people for immigration review ¬– a brazen violation of Torres’ constitutional rights, which the ACLU of Louisiana is challenging in court.

This is what happens when local law enforcement agencies are more concerned with enforcing our country’s broken immigration laws than keeping our streets safe. 

Even when ICE proactively asks local law enforcement to make an arrest, they are relying on flawed technology and error-ridden databases that increase the likelihood of mistakes and abuses. The process is so flawed that a federal judge in California recently issued a permanent injunction blocking ICE from issuing arrest requests in the court’s jurisdiction based solely on error-prone electronic databases.

The residents of Terrebonne Parish deserve better than to have their tax dollars wasted on a counterproductive and harmful program that endangers their constitutional rights.

We encourage local law enforcement authorities to focus on more effective approaches to community policing that respect the rights of everyone within our borders.