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Becky Bowers
By Becky Bowers January 8, 2013

House Republicans support state and local help enforcing immigration laws

As the state of Arizona wrangled with the Justice Department in 2010 about its authority to help enforce federal immigration laws, the new House Republican majority sided with Arizona's governor.

The Republicans said they would "reaffirm the authority of state and local law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of all federal immigration laws."

(That was before the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated most parts of the law in June 2012.)

House lawmakers took action. Some of their most recent moves:

• In March 2012, they held hearings on H.R. 3808, the Scott Gardner Act, which would have empowered state and local law enforcement pulling over drunk drivers to check immigration status and hold in custody "unlawfully present aliens.” The measure didn't make it to the House floor.

• In May 2012, they amended an appropriations bill to try to stop the federal challenge to Arizona's law. It prohibited funding for the attorney general to challenge state immigration enforcement laws, not just in Arizona, but also in Oklahoma, Missouri, Utah, Indiana, Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia. The bill died in the Senate.

• In June 2012, they amended a different appropriations bill, this time to protect a program that deputizes some state and local law enforcement officers to help with immigration enforcement. It prohibited funding from being used to terminate the program, known as 287(g). That bill also died in the Senate.

While those efforts to "reaffirm the authority” of state and local law enforcement failed, Congress continues to fund some programs that enlist state and local help. They come in two forms:

• In the first type, some state and local officials are deputized to enforce federal immigration laws. That"s the case with the controversial 287(g) partnerships between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local agencies. (Critics argue they encourage racial profiling and discourage immigrants from reporting crime.) Congress funded them through continuing appropriations, said Chris Rickerd of the American Civil Liberties Union, though the Obama administration is winding down the most contentious "task force” partnerships.

• Then there are programs that enlist state and local help arguably without ceding any real "authority.” Those include the Secure Communities program, under which fingerprints taken by local jurisdictions are shared with federal officials to be checked against immigration databases;  Operation Stonegarden, a grant program to reimburse local law enforcement agencies for work along border areas; and the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which reimburses some local corrections systems for detaining people who are in the country illegally.

Those are examples of congressional support for local and state law enforcement assistance, said Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for low levels of immigration.  But Rickerd of the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposed the Arizona law and 287(g), argues that since decisions about enforcement remain with federal agencies, the programs don't necessarily reaffirm any "authority” on the part of local officials.

House Republicans in the 112th Congress promised to "reaffirm the authority of state and local law enforcement to assist in the enforcement of all federal immigration laws." Lawmakers made a series of attempts to do that, but efforts stalled or were rebuffed by the Senate. Still, Congress did reauthorize funding for several programs that enlist state and local participation in federal immigration enforcement. We rate this promise a Compromise.

Our Sources

Interview with Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies, Center for Immigration Studies, Jan. 8, 2013

Interview with Chris Rickerd, policy counsel, American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislative Office, Jan. 8, 2013

Interview with Gregory Chen, director of advocacy, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Jan. 4, 2013, "Keeping the Pledge to America: How Republicans Have Fought to Create Jobs, Cut Spending, & Change the Way Congress Does Business," Sept. 20, 2012

Library of Congress' Thomas, "Homeland Security Appropriations Act," accessed Nov. 20, 2012

Library of Congress' Thomas, "Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act," accessed Jan. 8, 2013

Library of Congress' Thomas, "Scott Gardner Act," accessed Jan. 8, 2013

Website of Rep. Robert Aderholt, "Aderholt Statement on Passage of Fiscal Year 2013 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill," June 7, 2012

Department of Homeland Security, "Fact Sheet: Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act," accessed Jan. 4, 2013

Southern California Public Radio, "A phase-out for 287(g) immigration enforcement partnerships,” Dec. 27, 2012

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, "Secure Communities," accessed  Jan. 8, 2013

House Committee on the Judiciary, "Statement of Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement Hearing on: 'Is Secure Communities Keeping Our Communities Secure?'" Nov. 30, 2011

California Department of Justice, "Information Bulletin: Responsibilities of Local Law Enforcement Agencies under Secure Communities," Dec. 2, 2012

Letter to Janet Napolitano and John Morton, "Re: End the 287(g) Immigration Enforcement Program," Dec. 11, 2012

Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance,"State Criminal Alien Assistance Program," accessed Jan. 8, 2013

Federal Emergency Management Agency, "FY 2012 Homeland Security Grant Program," updated July 12, 2012

Justice Department, "Citing Conflict with Federal Law, Department of Justice Challenges Arizona Immigration Law," July 6, 2010

State of Arizona, SB 1070, signed April 23, 2010

Supreme Court, Arizona vs. United States, October 2011

ScotusBlog, "Arizona v. United States," accessed Jan. 8, 2013

ScotusBlog, "S.B. 1070: In Plain English,” June 25, 2012

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