Immigration Enforcement: Controls over Program Authorizing State and Local Enforcement of Federal Immigration Laws Should Be Strengthened

GAO-09-381T Published: Mar 04, 2009. Publicly Released: Mar 04, 2009.
Jump To:
Skip to Highlights

This testimony discusses the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) management of the 287(g) program. Recent reports indicate that the total population of unauthorized aliens residing in the United States is about 12 million. Some of these aliens have committed one or more crimes, although the exact number of aliens that have committed crimes is unknown. Some crimes are serious and pose a threat to the security and safety of communities. ICE does not have the agents or the detention space that would be required to address all criminal activity committed by unauthorized aliens. Thus, state and local law enforcement officers play a critical role in protecting our homeland because, during the course of their daily duties, they may encounter foreign-national criminals and immigration violators who pose a threat to national security or public safety. On September 30, 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act was enacted and added section 287(g) to the Immigration and Nationality Act. This section authorizes the federal government to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies, and to train selected state and local officers to perform certain functions of an immigration officer--under the supervision of ICE officers--including searching selected federal databases and conducting interviews to assist in the identification of those individuals in the country illegally. The first such agreement under the statute was signed in 2002, and as of February 2009, 67 state and local agencies were participating in this program. The testimony today is based on our January 30, 2009, report regarding the program including selected updates made in February 2009. Like the report, this statement addresses (1) the extent to which Immigration and Customs Enforcement has designed controls to govern 287(g) program implementation and (2) how program resources are being used and the activities, benefits, and concerns reported by participating agencies. To do this work, we interviewed officials from both ICE and participating agencies regarding program implementation, resources, and results. We also reviewed memorandums of agreement (MOA) between ICE and the 29 law enforcement agencies participating in the program as of September 1, 2007, that are intended to outline the activities, resources, authorities, and reports expected of each agency. We also compared the controls ICE designed to govern implementation of the 287(g) program with criteria in GAO's Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA), and the Project Management Institute's Standard for Program Management. More detailed information on our scope and methodology appears in the January 30, 2009 report. In February 2009, we also obtained updated information from ICE regarding the number of law enforcement agencies participating in the 287(g) program as well as the number of additional law enforcement agencies being considered for participation in the program. We conducted our work in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.

Full Report