|Rapidly Expanding 287(g) Program Suffers from Lack of Transparency
By Claudia Flores
During his first week in office, President Donald Trump issued an executive order setting the stage for more punitive and aggressive detention
and deportation practices. Among other things, the executive order—“Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”—called for a
rapid expansion of harmful 287(g) agreements, through which state and local law enforcement personnel are deputized to enforce federal
immigration laws. Since then, the number of local jurisdictions that have signed 287(g) memoranda of agreement (MOAs) with U.S.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has more than doubled. Today, there are 78 law enforcement agencies across 20 states
participating in the 287(g) program and serving as a force multiplier in President Trump’s deportation force.
For years, jurisdictions participating in the 287(g) program have faced legal challenges resulting from allegations of racial profiling and civil
rights abuses. In addition, they have come under serious criticism regarding financial mismanagement and for their role in facilitating the
deportation of thousands of immigrant residents over traffic violations and other minor offenses in their communities. In 2010, the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) issued a report that was deeply critical of ICE’s management and oversight
of 287(g) programs and that raised concerns relating to poor compliance with the terms of the agreements, inadequate officer training, and a
general lack of transparency and accountability.
Local oversight is key: 287(g) steering committees
When a local law enforcement agency (LEA) makes the voluntary decision to enter into a 287(g) agreement, it devotes staff and local resources
to work in greater cooperation with ICE on immigration enforcement. In light of that partnership arrangement, it is in the best interest of the
public to ensure that community leaders and other key constituencies have a meaningful opportunity to provide feedback to local officials about
how such agreements are operating. Engaging regularly with local stakeholders can help ensure effective oversight, improve compliance with
the terms of the MOA, and provide critically needed ongoing input in determining whether maintaining such an agreement with ICE is having a
positive or negative impact on the community as a whole.
A key recommendation in the 2010 OIG report was that ICE “[r]equire 287(g) program sites to maintain steering committees with external
stakeholders, with a focus on ensuring compliance with the MOA.” The OIG observed that prior to July 2009, MOAs required that ICE and the
participating jurisdiction establish a steering committee to evaluate immigration enforcement actions but that few jurisdictions maintained
such steering committees, and none required the participation of community stakeholders. In July 2009, ICE revised its template MOA,
removing the steering committee requirement entirely. In its report, the OIG explained, “Steering committees should not be narrowly viewed as
a means to enhance ICE and LEA communications, but as a way to (1) improve program oversight and direction, (2) identify issues and
concerns regarding immigration enforcement activities, (3) increase transparency, and (4) offer stakeholders opportunities to communicate
While ICE concurred with the OIG recommendation, the OIG chose to leave the recommendation unresolved and open because ICE’s
response contained few specifics. Six months later, ICE committed to the OIG that it was “in the process of finalizing guidance to the LEAs to
establish and implement steering committees with external stakeholders.”
In 2017—seven years after the issuance of the OIG reports—Congress for the first time echoed the steering committee recommendation,
directing ICE “to continue to require the establishment and regular use of steering committees for each [287(g)] jurisdiction, including the
participation of external stakeholders.” The language was included in a House Appropriations Committee report for the fiscal year 2018
Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill, which was subsequently incorporated into the explanatory statement accompanying the
bill enacted into law.*
The disappointing reality of steering committees in local communities
In 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to require local law enforcement agencies to establish and implement steering
committees with external stakeholders. Despite that agreement and the recent congressional action directing ICE to establish steering
committees, ICE and local jurisdictions alike have failed to comply with this key oversight requirement. Today, the standard memorandum of
agreement between ICE and 287(g) LEAs does not specifically require participation from community stakeholders to provide advice and
guidance on how the program is running. In fact, in recent years, the language included in 287(g) agreements requires local jurisdictions to
participate in steering committee meetings “as necessary,” and it does nothing more than allow local officials to engage with members of the
public at their own discretion.
From July through September 2018, the Center for American Progress reached out to 78 localities with existing 287(g) agreements to examine
when, if ever, steering committee meetings have taken place. The results were striking. Upon initial contact, not a single participating
jurisdiction could provide information on whether it had established a steering committee or give details about when a stakeholder
engagement meeting relating to a 287(g) program may have taken place. After conducting detailed Internet searches that included reviewing
LEAs’ social media accounts and local government websites, calling public information officers, and speaking with community groups in
nearly a dozen states, CAP could only confirm that 17 jurisdictions have held steering committee meetings in recent years, and only 9 had
public records of those meetings occurring. It was difficult to access public records of meetings or agendas based on information available on
county and sheriff websites, making it even harder to review any decisions that may have been made during these meetings and to confirm if
any members of the public were in attendance.
These findings coincide with concerns recently shared with
the author by local community members and advocacy
groups that have questioned the existence and use of
steering committees and criticized ICE and local LEAs for
restricting public access to such meetings. Community
groups have shared stories of ICE and its local law
enforcement partners changing, without advance notice,
dates or locations of meetings and other practices. In
Tennessee, for example, the advocacy group Allies of
Knoxville’s Immigrant Neighbors noted that this “last minute
meeting change” was made “to confuse the public and
decrease the number of people who show up [to these
meetings] to speak out against this [287(g)] program.”
There have been complaints of ICE preventing community
members from taping or video recording the meetings in
jurisdictions that have open-meeting laws that support audio or video recordings of public meetings.
Restricting public access seems to be a pervasive problem in a number of localities. On September 27, 2018, Salem County, New Jersey,
hosted its annual 287(g) steering committee meeting at the ICE office in Newark, New Jersey. This location meant that in order for Salem
County residents to attend to learn more about their 287(g) program or raise concerns with their local elected officials, they would have had to
drive nearly two hours from home. Similarly, residents of other jurisdictions with steering committees have found that meetings are sometimes
held at courthouses or ICE offices many miles away. Even more concerning, having meetings in courthouses or ICE offices may restrict
access for community members who are immigrants, given the rise in ICE’s practice of targeting and arresting immigrants inside local
Recommendations and conclusion
As the growth of 287(g) agreements is likely to continue nationwide, a lack of transparency and poor oversight will only aggravate their negative
impacts on local communities. For localities, any attempts to discourage participation from community members, particularly those most
affected by the 287(g) program, puts community trust at great risk and fails to provide the crucial oversight needed to prevent these programs
from having adverse effects in communities.
The following recommendations provide a path forward to ensure that ICE and participating LEAs meet effective 287(g) program oversight:
• Every participating jurisdiction must establish a 287(g) steering committee that includes community stakeholders. Moreover, steering
committees should hold regular meetings that are fully accessible to members of the public and that are announced accurately and in a timely
• ICE should modify its template MOA to clearly require every participating jurisdiction to establish and utilize steering committees that meet
regularly with external stakeholders. ICE should ensure that such steering committees are established and that meetings are taking place as
required. In the same way that ICE now posts existing 287(g) contracts on its website, ICE can collect and provide advance public notice of all
steering committee meetings to ensure that information is centralized and easily accessible to the public.
• Pursuant to congressional requirement included in appropriations report language, ICE must submit to Congress a report “not later than
60 days after the end of each fiscal year, including details on steering committee membership and activities for participating jurisdictions.”
• Congress should conduct necessary oversight to ensure that ICE is fulfilling its duty to ensure that each participating jurisdiction has
established and is regularly employing steering committees to meaningfully solicit input from local stakeholders. Congress should also
withhold additional funding for the 287(g) program until oversight mechanisms are improved and requirements are met.
• The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) should have officials present at every
steering committee meeting, consistent with the direction of Congress that the CRCL “continue providing rigorous oversight of the 287(g)
• Local community members should continue to pay close attention to the impacts of 287(g) programs in their communities, and they
should demand transparency from their local government representatives by requesting that steering committee meetings, at minimum, occur
The burden of immigration enforcement is negatively affecting not just immigrants but also communities nationwide. Under the Trump
administration, 287(g) agreements are growing at an unprecedented pace and are becoming a key tool in the implementation of a mass
deportation agenda. CAP’s research indicates that ICE and participating jurisdictions are ignoring an important opportunity to engage local
stakeholders and ensure better oversight and transparency. It is imperative that localities considering deputizing their officers for immigration
enforcement take the concerns noted in this issue brief seriously. The only way to improve public safety is by building and maintaining trust
between police officers and the communities they serve.
Claudia Flores is the immigration campaign manager with the Immigration team at the Center for American Progress.
The author thanks Chris Rickerd from the American Civil Liberties Union and Tom Jawetz, Philip E. Wolgin, and Nicole Prchal Svajlenka from
the Center for American Progress for providing research support and reviewing this brief.
* The draft committee report accompanying the FY 2019 House appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security,27 considered by
the House Appropriations Committee, generally repeats this requirement, though the language is changed, perhaps inadvertently, to suggest
that it is ICE—rather than the participating jurisdictions—that must hold regular steering committee meetings for each jurisdiction.