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Immigrants Sue Over Local Immigration Enforcement Program

Three immigrants in Georgia filed what some experts said could be the first legal challenge to the 287 (g) program, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program that allows the agency to delegate some immigration enforcement responsibilities to local police. The immigrants are seeking to have the case declared a class-action lawsuit for “all Hispanic persons who have been or will be restrained and interrogated within the State of Georgia” by local law enforcement under the 287 (g) program.

The program, which was created in 1996, allows the Department of Homeland Security to train local law enforcement to enforce immigration law. It has been criticized by immigrant rights groups and a 2009 Government Accountability Office report for leading to deportation of low-level criminal offenders — minor violations of traffic and open-container laws — instead of focusing on serious crime by illegal immigrants.

Critics also argue it leads to racial profiling, particularly among Latinos, and creates a fear of police in immigrant communities. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., has been accused of abusing the 287 (g) program to carry out controversial sweeps of immigrant-heavy neighborhoods. Arpaio’s office was limited to using the program only in jails — not to make arrests — in 2009.

In Georgia, the program has been used to identify more than 14,690 illegal immigrants for deportation in its four years in the state, ICE officials told the Associated Press. Four counties in the state, and its Department for Public Safety, have signed agreements to participate in the program.

The AP has more on the lawsuit:

The lawsuit alleges ICE has failed to train, supervise and otherwise oversee sheriff’s deputies in Cobb County, where the three plaintiffs live. It also claims ICE has improperly delegated its power to local authorities.

“This is a bad thing, and it tears apart families,” said attorney Erik Meder, who filed the lawsuit. “While these people are certainly in the country illegally, they aren’t criminals and don’t deserve to be locked up and separated from their families.”

Immigration officials have broad discretionary power and should not be issuing a notice to appear — which initiates deportation proceedings — for illegal immigrants who are arrested and discovered to be in the country illegally after initially having been stopped for relatively minor offenses, the lawsuit says.

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