The White House’s Office of Public Engagement invited immigration advocates to discuss law enforcement practices in local communities under 287(g) agreements. Among those attending the meeting this week was Marty Rosenbluth, attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ). The Bond Fund is working with SCSJ in North Carolina to help the community respond to local police cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Only Arizona and Virginia have more 287(g) agreements than North Carolina. The Bond Fund has helped eight SCSJ clients post bond and get out of immigration detention, so they can have their fair day in court.
In July 2009, the Obama Administration announced plans to review the Section 287(g) agreements; issue revised Memorandums of Agreement; set priorities to focus local police enforcement efforts on immigrants who commit serious or dangerous crimes; and require local law enforcement agents to pursue the criminal charges that caused the person to be arrested. “Despite these changes, and all the promises and guarantees, the overwhelming majority of people are picked up on small, trivial crimes,” said Mr. Rosenbluth, “And people are still put into immigration removal proceedings before their criminal cases are even heard.” According to the ICE website, only eight of the Section 287(g) MOA are new or modified since July; the remaining 59 agreements pre-date the promised “improvements.”
Not only do local police fail to prioritize the cases: ICE and the Immigration Judges fail too. On the morning of his meeting with the White House, Mr. Rosenbluth represented a woman who had been released on her own recognizance by the local authorities. She was not considered a flight risk or a danger to the community. However, ICE detained her, and set her bond at $7500! She has been in the US more than ten years, and she is married to a US citizen with serious health problems. The family can not afford the bond and now she will probably miss her state hearing on the criminal charges. “It was good for the White House to hear what is happening locally,” said Mr. Rosenbluth.
Logistically, the Section 287(g) agreements are a nightmare in North Carolina for immigration practitioners and their clients. “Cooperation” between local jails and ICE makes it nearly impossible for an attorney to hold a bond hearing at the local immigration court in Charlotte, NC, before his or her client is transferred to the immigration detention center in Georgia. First, the client must pay the bail to be released from jail for the criminal charges, and then ICE takes custody and the immigration court has jurisdiction. As soon as ICE has custody, it starts to arrange transfer of the person from the local county jail to the immigration detention center. If the request for a bond hearing is too early, there is no jurisdiction. If the request is too late, the client has already been transferred to Georgia. “It is clear the Charlotte immigration court can take jurisdiction, when ICE has custody, even after the person is transferred.” argues Mr. Rosenbluth. So far, the Charlotte immigration court has declined to do so. Mr. Rosenbluth observes, “Everyone knows it is much more difficult to get bond from the Immigration Judges in Atlanta. The attorney practically has to prove the underlying case to get bond.”
Once a person is in immigration detention, and far from home, it is hard to gather the documents and arrange the witnesses to prove a case for bond or relief from removal. A client narrowly escaped that fate last week when Mr. Rosenbluth appeared on his behalf in the Charlotte immigration court. The client had paid his criminal bail, and the Bond Fund was standing by to help with his immigration bond. Mr. Rosenbluth was waiting, in front of the Immigration Judge, while the ICE Trial Attorney called to confirm whether the client was in ICE custody, but not yet transferred to Georgia. She had to check back later in the hearing to verify that ICE had him, and he was still in the Charlotte area. The bond hearing proceeded, and the client will be able to bond out before ICE transfers him.
The problems with local enforcement of immigration law are overwhelming. “With or without the promised improvements in enforcement,” said Mr. Rosenbluth, “the 287(g) program is untenable and it should be scrapped.” This is the message he hopes the White House understands.