Think tank critical of program that allows Collier deputies to act as deportation agents

Naples Daily News
By: Ryan Mills
Published: February 26, 2009
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NAPLES — A Brooklyn-based criminal justice think tank released a report today critical of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement program used by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office that allows local law enforcement officers to act as deportation agents.

The think tank, Justice Strategies, says that ICE’s 287(g) program — named for a section of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act — has harmed public safety and shifted the costs of immigration enforcement to local governments. The three-year-old non-profit think tank is affiliated with the progressive Tides Center, Inc.

Collier Sheriff Kevin Rambosk, who ran as a Republican, said his agency did a cursory review of the report Wednesday afternoon and disagrees with its premise. The Collier County Sheriff’s Office was the first local law enforcement agency in Florida to have members cross-trained with ICE.

“We are actually reinforcing our core mission by identifying criminals or those who commit crimes in our community and ultimately removing them from our jails,” Rambosk said. “We see a reduction in crime and a reduction in operating costs to house these criminals when they shouldn’t be here in the first place.”

According to the report, which is the result of “an extensive literature review” and original interviews, the 287(g) program is over budget, sets up states and localities to “bail out the federal government,” and has been primarily implemented in localities that are not crime hot spots.

The report says the program allows officers who lack reasonable suspicion of a crime to make arrests anyway. The program was sold to Congress and the public as a program that would target criminal aliens, said Aarti Shahani, the lead author of the report.

“However you feel about it, the program is structured to pick up basic immigration violators. ICE is engaging in false marketing,” said Shahani, a professor at New York University and an immigration activist who co-founded Families for Freedom, a New York based defense network for families facing deportation.

Rambosk said the Sheriff’s Office has a very strict model and set of policies and procedures that is not an abuse of 287(g) authority, and does not include roadside and farm field enforcement.

“Our program does not look at basic immigration violators,” Rambosk said. “We specifically look at those individuals who have committed crimes against our families, our friends, our residents and their own peers and end up in jail.”

Though some leaders in Collier’s minority community have been critical of the program, Sheriff’s Office officials regularly tout it as one of the reasons for recent decreases in crime. Shahani disagrees

“Collier County was already seeing a dip in crime before joining the program,” she said.

Rambosk, who said he has never heard of Justice Strategies before, said he believes Collier County’s 287(g) model deserves to be replicated across the country.

“We’re going to prepare a report on our mode of program and how successful it is and send that information to the same parties that this group is sending theirs to,” Rambosk said, “with the recommendation to not only keep the program, but to replicate it the proper way, as our model operates.”