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Change in course on 287 (g)

The Chron notes a change in course on how the city wants to deal with undocumented immigrants.

Mayor Bill White is distancing himself from a controversial federal program that trains local law enforcement to identify suspected illegal immigrants, saying this week that he favors an automated immigration screening program in the city’s jails.

This spring, after a Houston Police Department officer was critically injured in a shooting by an illegal immigrant, White formally requested that Department of Homeland Security officials expedite his request that the city participate in the 287(g) program, which would train jailers to act as de-facto immigration agents.

ICE officials announced in July that HPD had been accepted into the program. But since then, the city and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have been locked in protracted negotiations over a range of issues related to the program, from how it should be administered to which agency should shoulder the costs.

White, who is running for U.S. Senate, now appears to be backing away from the program, saying ICE officials were “bureaucratic” in the negotiations. Vincent Picard, an ICE spokesman, declined comment on the Houston negotiations.

“Rather than letting us simply write the agreements on our own terms, they want to put language in there that we object to,” White said. “We don’t want anything that creates obligations on the part of the city, or that would be inconsistent with our policies not to divert patrol officers from solving crimes.”

White said this week that he has not eliminated the possibility of participating in 287(g) on the city’s terms, but would prefer to participate in another ICE program instead. That program, “Secure Communities,” gives local law enforcement agencies access to a massive immigration database to check suspects’ immigration history.

White said that unlike 287(g), the Secure Communities program would require “no special agreement” with DHS or cost nearly as much. City officials had estimated 287(g) would cost an estimated $1.5 million to $2 million a year to operate and require training for 22 police officers and two supervisors in Houston’s jails.

However, the city so far lacks the technical capability to directly access ICE’s immigration database. White said he plans to have the technical problems resolved before the end of year, when he leaves office. Immigration screening in the city jails likely will be a key issue for Houston’s mayoral candidates, who are vying to replace White in January.

Campos is pleased by this. Stace calls it a “small victory” but still has a lot of questions about how the “secure Communities” program would work, and he isn’t too happy with the way that the Mayoral candidates have been talking about this issue. Coby notes that Gene Locke has been saying different things to different people. I share Stace’s concerns, and I hope this matter is given a lot of thought by the next Mayor before we commit to anything. It’s not just about the money, though there are certainly questions about that, it’s about making sure we treat everyone equally.

UPDATE: More in today’s Chron on how the Mayoral candidates are like or not like Mayor White on this issue.

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One Comment

  1. City Hall Watcher says:

    Many times, the Chron’s reporting leaves much to be desired. The City did not change how it wants to deal with immigration violators. All along, what they have wanted is access to the ICE databases in the jail. They wanted to sign an agreement with Homeland Security for just that part of 287(g). Homeland won’t do that – and it’s costly, anyway. So, now they have found another program that offers what they want. It’s really as simple as that. The objective for what the City wants out of the feds – and what they want to do with undocumented immigrants – has not changed.