Enforcing Immigration Law: The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement
Enforcing Immigration Law:
The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement
Updated August 30, 2007
Analyst in Domestic Security
Domestic Social Policy Division
Michael John Garcia
American Law Division
Information Research Specialist
Knowledge Services Group
Enforcing Immigration Law:
The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement
Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the enforcement of our nation’s
immigration laws has received a significant amount of attention. Some observers
contend that the federal government does not have adequate resources to enforce
immigration law and that state and local law enforcement entities should be utilized.
Others, however, question what role state and local law enforcement agencies should
have in light of limited state and local resources and immigration expertise.
Congress defined our nation’s immigration laws in the Immigration and
Nationality Act (INA), which contains both criminal and civil enforcement measures.
Historically, the authority for state and local law enforcement officials to enforce
immigration law has been construed to be limited to the criminal provisions of the
INA; by contrast, the enforcement of the civil provisions, which includes
apprehension and removal of deportable aliens, has strictly been viewed as a federal
responsibility, with states playing an incidental supporting role. The legislative
proposals that have been introduced, however, would appear to expand the role of
state and local law enforcement agencies in the civil enforcement aspects of the INA.
Congress, through various amendments to the INA, has gradually broadened the
authority for state and local law enforcement officials to enforce immigration law,
and some recent statutes have begun to carve out possible state roles in the
enforcement of civil matters. Indeed, several jurisdictions have signed agreements
(INA §287(g)) with the federal government to allow their respective state and local
law enforcement agencies to perform new, limited duties relating to immigration law
enforcement. Still, the enforcement of immigration laws by state and local officials
has sparked debate among many who question what the proper role of state and local
law enforcement officials should be in enforcing such laws. For example, many have
expressed concern over proper training, finite resources at the local level, possible
civil rights violations, and the overall impact on communities. Some communities
have taken steps to define or limit the involvement of local authorities in the
implementation of immigration law.
In the 110th Congress, proposals have been introduced to enhance and/or clarify
the role of state and local officials in the enforcement of immigration law. For
example, S. 1348, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, S.Amdt.
1150, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Reform Act of
1645 contain provisions pertaining to state and local enforcement of immigration
laws . This report examines some of the policy and legal issues that may accompany
an increased role of state and local law officials in the enforcement of immigration
law. It will be updated as warranted.
In troduction ......................................................1
Criminal Alien Program.........................................3
Absconder Apprehension Initiative ...............................3
Authorities to Enforce Immigration Law................................4
State Involvement in the Enforcement of Immigration Law.................6
Office of Legal Counsel Opinions.................................7
Express Authorization for State and Local Law Enforcement Officers
to Enforce Immigration Law................................14
Florida’s Memorandum of Understanding..........................17
Alabama’s Memorandum of Understanding........................19
Background and Training...................................19
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department MOA................20
Arizona’s MOA .............................................20
Commonalities in the MOAs....................................21
Total Number of Law Enforcement Officers Trained.............21
Legislation in the 110th Congress.....................................21
State and Local Policies Regarding Immigration Enforcement..........23
Access to Database............................................24
Pro/Con Analysis of State and Local Law Enforcement Officials
Enforcing Immigration Law.....................................26
Impact on Communities........................................26
Possible Policy Approaches.........................................28
Direct Access to Databases.....................................28
Funding for State Cooperation...................................29
Criminalizing Civil Immigration Violations........................30
Appendix A. List of Law Enforcement Entities Participating
in 287(g) Program............................................31
Appendix B. Legislation in the 109th Congress..........................32
Enforcing Immigration Law: The Role of
State and Local Law Enforcement
Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the enforcement of our nation’s
immigration laws has received a significant amount of attention. Some observers
contend that the federal government has scarce resources to enforce immigration law
and that state and local law enforcement entities should be utilized. Still, many
continue to question what role state and local law enforcement agencies should have
in light of limited state and local resources and immigration expertise.
States and localities bear the primary responsibility for defining and prosecuting
crimes. But beyond enforcing the laws or ordinances of their state or locality, state
and local officials may also have the authority to enforce some federal laws,
especially criminal laws. Immigration law provides for both criminal punishments
(e.g., for alien smuggling, which is prosecuted in the courts) and civil violations (e.g.,
lack of legal status, which may lead to removal through a separate administrative
system). The states and localities have traditionally only been permitted to directly
enforce the criminal provisions, whereas the enforcement of the civil provisions has
been viewed as a federal responsibility with states playing an incidental supporting
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (8 U.S.C. §§1101 et seq.) currently
provides limited avenues for state enforcement of both its civil and criminal
provisions. The legislative proposals that have been introduced, however, would
appear to expand the role of state and local law enforcement agencies in the civil
regulatory aspects of immigration law (i.e., identifying and detaining deportable
aliens for purposes of removal). Adding the enforcement of civil immigration law
to the role of state and local law enforcement could, in essence, involve the agencies
in a seemingly unfamiliar mission. This potential expansion has prompted many to
examine the legal authority by which state and local law enforcement agencies may
enforce immigration law, particularly the civil enforcement measures.
This report examines the role of state and local law enforcement in enforcing
immigration law. The discussion is limited to the role of state and local law
enforcement in the investigation, arrest, and detention of all immigration violators.
The report does not discuss the prosecution, adjudication, or removal of aliens who
violate the law. The report opens with a brief discussion of the types of immigration
interior enforcement activities that the former Immigration and Naturalization
1 This report was originally authored by Lisa Seghetti, Specialist in Domestic Security and
Immigration, and Stephen Viña, Legislative Attorney.
Service (INS) pursued and the current immigration activities that are now the focus
of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). A discussion of the legal authority
that permits state and local law enforcement to enforce immigration law under certain
circumstances follows. Current administrative efforts to involve state and local law
enforcement in enforcing immigration law as well as selected issues are discussed.
The report concludes with a discussion of the potential pros and cons of such a policy
and an analysis of possible policy approaches for Congress.
The enforcement of immigration laws in the interior of the United States has
been controversial. Traditionally, the debate posed concern over large numbers of
“lawbreakers” (i.e., illegal aliens) depressing wages against perceptions that foreign
labor benefits the economy and promotes relations with “source” countries.
Nonetheless, after the attacks of September 11, attention refocused on the adequacy
of interior immigration enforcement, especially the perceived lack of federal
resources. Prior to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the INS had fewer than
Although that number has not changed since the terrorist attacks, the merger of the
interior enforcement function of the former INS with the investigative arm of the
U.S. Customs Service (Customs) into the Bureau of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE), which is located in DHS, has doubled the number of interior2
agents potentially available to enforce immigration laws.
In spite of the increase in interior enforcement agents, many continue to believe
that the number is still insufficient. Moreover, although the consolidation increased
the number of interior enforcement agents, they now have multiple missions, which
include enforcing immigration law in the interior of the United States, stemming the
flow of illicit drugs, and deterring money laundering, among other things.
The enforcement of immigration law within the interior of the United States
includes investigating aliens who violate the INA and other related laws. Prior to
September 11, 2001, immigration interior enforcement focused on investigating: (1)
aliens committing crimes; (2) suspected fraudulent activities (i.e., possessing or
manufacturing fraudulent immigration documents); (3) suspected smuggling and
trafficking of aliens; and (4) suspected work site violations, frequently involving
aliens who work without legal permission and employers who knowingly hire illegal
aliens. Since the terrorist attacks, however, the majority of ICE’s resources have
been directed at stemming terrorist-related activities and activities that have a
national security interest.
Currently, there are express provisions in federal law that provide state and local
law enforcement the authority to assist federal officers with the enforcement of
immigration law under certain circumstances. Such authorities were enacted into law
in 1996 in §439 of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA; P.L.
2 Michael Garcia, Director of the ICE, speech at the Heritage Foundation, July 23, 2003.
Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA; P.L. 104-206).3 In addition to the provisions
enacted in AEDPA and IIRIRA, the DHS has several initiatives with state and local
law enforcement agencies to facilitate the investigation, arrest and apprehension of
foreign nationals who have violated the law, as discussed below.
Criminal Alien Program4
The Criminal Alien Program (formerly known as the Alien Criminal
Apprehension Program) was established in 1991 by the former INS. Although it has
evolved since its initial inception, the primary purpose of the program has remained
— the identification of criminal aliens. Under the current program, criminal aliens
are identified by immigration officials as they are incarcerated, but prior to their
release. By identifying criminal aliens while they are serving a criminal sentence,
DHS, in conjunction with DOJ, is able to facilitate their removal while in state or
Absconder Apprehension Initiative
The Absconder Apprehension Initiative was initially created to clear up the
backlog of cases of aliens who had an unexecuted final order of removal.
Absconders are unauthorized or criminal aliens or nonimmigrants who violated
immigration law and have been ordered deported by an immigration court. Although
the identification and removal of criminal aliens had been a focus of the former INS,
the terrorist attacks brought renewed interest in their removal. In 2001, the former
INS Commissioner, James Ziglar, in cooperation with the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI), decided to list the names of absconders in the FBI’s National
Criminal Information Center (NCIC).5
Although there is quite a bit of debate with respect to state and local law
enforcement officers’ authority to enforce immigration law (see discussion below),
as a matter of practice, it is permissible for state and local law enforcement officers
to inquire into the status of an immigrant during the course of their normal duties in
enforcing state and local law. This practice allows state and local law enforcement
officers to play an indirect role that is incidental to their general criminal enforcement
For example, when state or local officers question the immigration status of
someone they have detained for a state or local violation, they may contact an ICE
3 See discussion under “State Involvement in the Enforcement of Immigration Law.”
4 See [http://www.ice.gov/partners/dro/cap.htm], last accessed on August 29, 2007.
5 The names of aliens with final orders of deportation was included in the NCIC, which
includes both criminal aliens and aliens who violated civil immigration law.
agent at the Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC).6 The federal agent may then
place a detainer on the suspect, requesting the state official to keep the suspect in
custody until a determination can be made as to the suspect’s immigration status.
However, the continued detention of such a suspect beyond the needs of local law
enforcement designed to aid in the enforcement of federal immigration laws may be
Indirect state participation by means of immigration detainers is not without
controversy. Many have alleged such abuses as state detentions premised on
immigrant status alone and custodial arrests for traffic violations or similar offenses
as pretexts for verifying an individual’s status with immigration authorities. Past
allegations of abuse at times have led to states and localities entering into consent
decrees that strictly limit their role in the enforcement of immigration law. On the
other hand, some localities have been concerned that an active role in enforcing
immigration law may stretch resources and hinder community cooperation in curbing
criminal activity. (See later discussion under Selected Issues.)
Authorities to Enforce Immigration Law
The power to prescribe rules as to which aliens may enter the United States and8
which aliens may be removed resides solely with the federal government,
particularly with the Congress. To implement its plenary power, Congress has
enacted and amended the INA — a comprehensive set of rules for legal immigration,
naturalization, deportation, and enforcement. Concomitant to its exclusive power to
determine which aliens may enter and which may stay, the federal government also
has power to proscribe activities that subvert these rules (e.g., alien smuggling) and
to set criminal or civil penalties for those who undertake these activities.
In examining the INA, it is crucial to distinguish the civil from criminal
violations. Mere illegal presence in the U.S. is a civil, not criminal, violation of the
INA, and subsequent deportation and associated administrative processes are civil
proceedings.9 For instance, a lawfully admitted non-immigrant alien may become
deportable under civil provisions if his visitor’s visa expires or if his student status
changes. Criminal violations of the INA, on the other hand, include felonies and
misdemeanors and are prosecuted in the federal courts. These types of violations
include, for example, 8 U.S.C. §1324, which addresses the bringing in and harboring
6 Under current practice in most jurisdictions, state and local law enforcement officials can
inquire into an alien’s immigration status if the alien is being questioned by an officer as a
result of a criminal investigation or other related matters (i.e., traffic violation). The LESC
is discussed in “Selected Issues,” under “Access to Database.”
7 6 Charles Gordon, et. al, Immigration Law and Procedure §72.02[b], at 72-27 (Matthew
Bender & Co., Inc. 2000) (citing Abel v. United States, 362 U.S. 217 (1960); United Statesth
v. Cruz, 559 F.2d 30 (5 Cir. 1977)).
8 U.S. Const., Art. I, §8, cl. 3, 4.
9 8 U.S.C. §1227(a)(1)(B). Other examples of civil violations include §1253(c) (penalties
relating to vessels and aircraft) and §1324d (penalties for failure to depart).
of certain undocumented aliens; §1325(a), which addresses the illegal entry of aliens;
and §1326, which penalizes the reentry of aliens previously excluded or deported.10
Congress also has exclusive authority to prescribe procedures for determining
who may enter or stay and the right of aliens in these proceedings, subject to the
individual rights all aliens in the United States enjoy under the Constitution.
However, exclusive authority to prescribe the rules on immigration11 does not
necessarily imply exclusive authority to enforce those rules. While enforcement
standards and procedures may differ between the criminal and civil aspects of
immigration law, Congress may authorize the states to assist in enforcing both, and
state officers may exercise this authority to the degree permitted under federal and
state law. There is a notion, however — one being more frequently articulated by the
federal courts and the Executive branch — that states have “inherent” authority to
enforce at least the federal criminal law related to immigration. This inherent
authority position is now apparently beginning to be expressed with regard to the
enforcement of the civil aspects of immigration law as well. State enforcement,
nonetheless, must always be consistent with federal authority.
Even assuming states have some inherent authority to enforce immigration law,
federal law preempts inconsistent state law where concurrent jurisdiction exists.
Congress’ power to preempt state law arises from the Supremacy Clause of the
Constitution, which provides that “the Laws of the United States ... shall be the
supreme Law of the Land ... any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the
Contrary notwithstanding.”12 Congressional intent is paramount in preemption
analysis; accordingly, a court must determine whether Congress expressly or
implicitly intended to preempt state or local action.13 Generally, a court will
determine that Congress intended to preempt a state regulation or enforcement when
(1) Congress expresses preemptive intent in “explicit statutory language,” (2) when
a state entity regulates “in a field that Congress intended the Federal Government to
occupy exclusively,” or (3) when a state entity’s activity “actually conflicts with
10 Other criminal provisions include §1253(a) disobeying a removal order, §1306 offenses
relating to registration of aliens, and §1324a(f) engaging in a pattern or practice of hiring
11 The federal authority to set rules on the entry of aliens and the conditions of their stay still
leaves limited room for state law aimed at the alien community. If a state regulation is
consistent with federal law and the equal protection requirements of the Fourteenth
Amendment, it may stand. See generally De Canas v. Bica, 424 U.S. 351, 355 (1976).
12 U.S. Const. Art. VI, cl.2.
13 See, e.g., Gade v. National Solid Wastes Management Ass’n, 505 U.S. 88, 96 (1992).
14 English v. General Elec. Co., 496 U.S. 72, 78-79 (1990). Complete occupation of a field
can be inferred from a “scheme of federal regulation ... so pervasive as to make reasonable
the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it,” or where an act of
Congress “touches a field in which the federal interest is so dominant that the federal system
will be assumed to preclude enforcement of state laws on the same subject.” Ibid., (quoting
State Involvement in the Enforcement of
Setting the rules on the entry and removal of aliens is unquestionably an
exclusive federal power and some would argue that uniformity in enforcing those
rules is critical to the exercise of sovereign authority (i.e., it should not be enforced
by states).15 Accordingly, it has been suggested that state involvement in
immigration law should be strictly limited to express congressional indication for
such participation.16 On the other hand, Congress can not compel the states to
enforce federal immigration law and to do so in a particular way.17
From the states’ point of view, the federal government’s exclusive power over
immigration does not preempt every state activity affecting aliens.18 And it generally
has been assumed that state and local officers may enforce the criminal provisions
of the INA if state law permits them to do so but are precluded from directly
enforcing the INA’s civil provisions.19 This view may be changing, however.
State enforcement of the criminal provisions of the INA is seen as being
consistent with the state’s police power to make arrests for criminal acts and the
expectation that states are expected to cooperate in the enforcement of federal
criminal laws.20 Civil immigration law enforcement, on the other hand, has generally
been viewed as strictly a federal responsibility: The civil provisions of the INA have
Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. 218, 230 (1947)). Conflict preemption occurs
where it is “impossible for a private party to comply with both state and federal
requirements,” Ibid., citing Florida Lime & Avocado Growers, Inc. v. Paul, 373 U.S. 132,
142-43 (1963)), or where state law “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and
execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.” Ibid., (quoting Hines v.
Davidowitz, 312 U.S. 52, 67 (1941)).
15 Celica Renn, Selected Comment on 1986 Immigration Reform: State and Local
Enforcement of the Criminal Immigration Statutes and the Preemption Doctrine, 41 U.
Miami L. Rev. 999, 1023 (1987) (hereafter cited as Renn, Selected Comment); see also
Linda R. Yanez and Alfonso Soto, Local Police Involvement in the Enforcement of
Immigration Law, 1 Tex. Hisp. J.L. & Pol’y 9, 29 (1994).
16 Renn, Selected Comment, at 30.
17 See generally, Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 922 (1997); see, e.g., INA §287(g)(9)
(“Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to require an agreement under this subsection
in order for any State or political subdivision of a State to enter into an agreement with the
Attorney General (AG) under this subsection.”).
18 De Canas v. Bica, 424 U.S. 351, 355 (1976); Gonzalez v. City of Peoria, 722 F. 2d 468,
19 See Gonzalez, 722 F. 2d at 474 (9th Cir. 1983).
20 Yanez, supra note 14, at 28-29. Cf People v. Barajas, 81 Cal. App. 3d 999 (1978)
(concluding that “the supremacy clause is a two-edged sword, and in the absence of a
limitation, the states are bound by it to enforce violations of the federal immigration laws.”).
Ibid., at 1006.
been assumed to constitute a pervasive and preemptive regulatory scheme — leaving
no room for a direct state or local role.21 The distinction between civil and criminal
violations in the INA has been seen to suggest a bifurcated role for states and
localities. For example, state and local law enforcement officers cannot arrest
someone solely for illegal presence for the purpose of deporting them because it is
a civil violation, but they can arrest someone for the criminal offense of entering the
country illegally.22 To the degree that it is not preempted, the authority of state and
local law enforcement officers to investigate and arrest for violations of federal law
is determined by reference to state law.23 This may be done through express
authorization in state law. However, this may not be necessary according to some
recent decisions from the Tenth Circuit that appear to suggest that state and local law
enforcement officers may possess “inherent authority” within their respective
jurisdictions to investigate and make arrests for criminal immigration matters.
The following sections briefly examine Department of Justice, Office of Legal
Counsel (OLC) opinions that have examined immigration enforcement authority,
analyze the major cases on the issue, and describe current provisions in law that
authorize state and local involvement in the enforcement of immigration law.
Office of Legal Counsel Opinions
Several Administrations have spoken on the scope of state and local
involvement. For example, a 1978 press release during the Carter Administration
stressed the need for cooperation and joint federal/state law enforcement operations,
but placed much emphasis on the exclusive federal role to enforce civil immigration
law and the special training required to do so.24 A 1983 statement issued by the
Reagan Justice Department emphasized similar cooperative measures, but still made
clear that only INS could make arrests for civil immigration violations and that state
and local cooperation consisted primarily of notifying INS about, and detaining,
21 Gonzalez, 722 F.2d at 474-75; see also Assistance by State and Local Police in
Apprehending Illegal Aliens, 1996 OLC Lexis 76, at 2 (February 5, 1996); Jeff Lewis, et al.,
Authority of State and Local Officers to Arrest Aliens Suspected of Civil Infractions of
Federal Immigration Law, 7 Bender’s Immigration Bulletin No. 15, p. 944 (August 1, 2002).
22 Illegal entry is a misdemeanor under INA §275. Because many encounters between local
police and undocumented aliens involve warrantless arrests, an officer’s authority to
apprehend a person in violation of §275 will necessarily depend on whether state arrest
statutes permit an arrest for a misdemeanor occurring outside the officer’s presence, since
the misdemeanor of illegal entry is apparently completed at the time of entry, and is not a
“continuing” offense that occurs in the presence of the officer. A continuing offense may
be found under INA §276, which applies to aliens previously deported who enter or are
found in the United States.
23 Vasquez-Alvarez, 176 F.3d at 1295; 84 Op. Atty. Gen. Cal. 189 (November 16, 2001)
AG Lexis 2, at *11-12.
24 Interpreter Releases, vol. 55, August 9, 1978, p. 306 (quoting DOJ press release).
suspected illegal aliens taken into police custody for state/local violations.25 In 1989,
the Department of Justice, OLC opined that local police could enforce the criminal
violations of the INA, but stated that it was “unclear”under current law whether local
police could enforce non-criminal federal statutes.26 More recently, a 1996 OLC
opinion concluded that state and local police did possess the authority to arrest aliens
for criminal violations of the INA, but lacked recognized legal authority to enforce
the civil provisions of immigration law.27
A shift in policy towards increasing the role and authority of local law
enforcement officers in the field of immigration enforcement came following the
terrorist attacks in September 2001. In December 2001 the INS reportedly began
sending the names of thousands of noncitizens to the NCIC databases as part of the
Absconder Apprehension Initiative. At a 2002 press conference, Attorney General
Ashcroft confirmed the existence of a new OLC opinion that, among other things,
expressed the department’s view that state and local officials have “inherent
authority” to enforce federal immigration law, including the civil enforcement
provisions. According to the Attorney General:
When federal, state and local law enforcement officers encounter an alien of
national security concern who has been listed on the NCIC for violating
immigration law, federal law permits them to arrest that person and transfer him
to the custody of the INS. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has
concluded that this narrow, limited mission that we are asking state and local
police to undertake voluntarily — arresting aliens who have violated criminal
provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act or civil provisions that render
an alien deportable, and who are listed on the NCIC — is within the inherent28
authority of states. (emphasis added)
Initially, the Department of Justice did not release or publish the 2002 OLC
opinion. Accordingly, several immigrant and public interest groups sought
disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The department, however,
claimed that the memorandum was exempt from disclosure under FOIA based on the
deliberative process and attorney-client privileges. A lawsuit seeking the release of
the 2002 OLC opinion was subsequently filed by the groups against the Department
of Justice. In May of 2005, the Second Circuit granted the interest groups’ FOIA
request and mandated that the department release the 2002 OLC opinion.29 The
25 Interpreter Releases, vol. 60, March 4, 1983, pp. 172-73 (quoting February 10, 1983,
26 Dep’t of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, Handling of INS Warrants of Deportation in
Relation to NCIC Wanted Person File, at 4, 5, & n.11 (April 11, 1989).
27 Dep’t of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, Assistance by State and Local Police in
Apprehending Illegal Aliens, 1996 OLC Lexis 76, at 2 (February 5, 1996). (Hereafter cited
as 1996 OLC Opinion).
28 Federal News Service, Press Conference With U.S. AG John Ashcroft and James Ziglar,
Commissioner, INS, Re: Tracking of Foreign Visitors (June 5, 2002).
29 Nat’l Council of La Raza v. Dep’t of Justice, 411 F.3d 350 (2nd Cir. 2005).
department released the opinion in July of 2005 but was allowed to redact certain
The 2002 OLC opinion concludes that (1) states have inherent power, subject
to federal preemption, to make arrests for violations of federal law; (2) the advice
provided in the 1996 OLC opinion that federal law precludes state police from
arresting aliens on the basis of civil deportability was mistaken; and (3) 8 U.S.C.
§1252c did not preempt state authority to arrest for federal violations. As to the first
conclusion, the opinion focuses on the authority of states, as sovereign entities, to
retain certain police powers under the Constitution, namely, the inherent authority to
make arrests for a violation of federal law. With respect to the second conclusion,
the 2002 opinion discredits much of the authority cited in the 1996 and 1989
opinions, takes into account case law not previously considered, and frames the
preemption issue differently (from the earlier opinions).31 The analysis under the
third conclusion examines the legislative history of §1252c and a Tenth Circuit case
to find a strong presumption against preemption.
Critics have described the newly released opinion as “deeply flawed” and
unsupported by legislative history or judicial precedent.32 It has been stated, for
example, that (1) immigration has long been recognized as a distinctly federal
concern; (2) federal law authorizes state and local enforcement of the immigration
laws only in specific circumstances, not broadly; (3) the opinion does not address the
significant distinction between criminal and non-criminal enforcement; and (4) the
opinion could have implications far beyond the immigration context.33 It should also
be recognized that although the 2002 OLC opinion describes a position in contrast
to previous policy, it cannot compel state action nor does it carry the same weight as
an act of Congress. Generally, interpretations contained in opinion letters are not
controlling and should be followed only insofar as they have the “power to
30 Dep’t of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, Non-preemption of the authority of state and
local law enforcement officials to arrest aliens for immigration violations, (April 3, 2002)
(Hereafter cited as 2002 OLC opinion) available at [http://www.aclu.org/FilesPDFs/
31 For example, the 2002 opinion states that the issue at hand does not fit under the typical
preemption scenario, but instead, presents the question of whether states can assist the
federal government by arresting aliens who have violated federal law (emphasis in original).
As such, relying on the dictum discussed in the Gonzales v. City of Peoria case (see text
under Case Law) was “entirely misplaced,” according to the opinion.
32 American Civil Liberties Union, Refutation of 2002 DOJ Memo, (September 6, 2005)
available at [http://www.aclu.org/FilesPDFs/ACF3189.pdf].
33 For example, it has been suggested that the 2002 OLC opinion could support state and
local arrests for violations of federal tax, environmental, finance, food safety, and education
laws. See ibid.
34 Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576, 587 (2000).
The issue of whether state and local law enforcement agencies are precluded
from enforcing provisions of the INA was analyzed in the Ninth Circuit case of
Gonzalez v. City of Peoria.35 In Gonzalez, the Ninth Circuit examined the City of
Peoria’s policies that authorized local officers to arrest illegal immigrants for
violating the criminal entry provision of the INA (8 U.S.C. §1325).36 The arrestees
claimed that the INA represented a full federal occupation of the field, which would
in turn preempt state action. The court turned to the legislative history of §1324(c)37
and determined that when Congress specifically removed language limiting the
enforcement of §1324 to federal officers and inserted specific language authorizing
local enforcement, that “it implicitly made the local enforcement authority as to all
three criminal statutes (i.e., §§1324, 1325, 1326) identical.”38 Accordingly, the Ninth
Circuit declared that local police officers may, subject to state law, constitutionally
stop or detain individuals when there is reasonable suspicion or, in the case of arrests,
probable cause that such persons have violated, or are violating, the criminal
provisions of the INA.39
With regards to preemption, the Gonzalez court determined that the criminal
immigration provisions were “few in number,” “relatively simple in their terms,”
constituted a “narrow and distinct element” of the INA, and did not require a
“complex administrative structure” consistent with exclusive federal control.40 The
court, therefore, concluded that the criminal provisions did not support the inference
that the federal government occupied the field of criminal immigration enforcement.
With respect to civil immigration enforcement, Gonzalez has been construed to
support the argument that states do not possess the authority, “inherent” or otherwise,
(unless specifically granted by Congress) to enforce the civil enforcement measures
of the INA.41 In conducting a preemption analysis for certain criminal provisions of
the INA, the Ninth Circuit in Gonzalez made a distinction between the civil and
criminal provisions of the INA, and assumed that the former constituted a pervasive
and preemptive regulatory scheme, whereas the latter did not. The court stated:
35 Gonzalez v. City of Peoria, 722 F.2d 468, 474 (9th Cir. 1983).
36 The plaintiffs alleged that the city police engaged in the practice of stopping and arresting
persons of Mexican descent without reasonable suspicion or probable cause and based only
on their race. Furthermore, they alleged that those persons stopped under this policy were
required to provide identification of legal presence in the U.S. and that anyone without
acceptable identification was detained at the jail for release to immigration authorities.
37 8 U.S.C. §1324 prohibits the bringing in and harboring of certain undocumented aliens
(see later discussion under “Express Authorization”).
38 See Gonzalez, 722 F. 2d at 475 (citing H.R. 1505, 82nd Cong., 2d sess, reprinted in 1952
U.S.C.C.A.N. 1358, 1360-61).
39 Gonzalez, 722 F.2d at 475.
40 Ibid., at 474-75.
41 See, e.g., 1996 OLC Opinion; 84 Op. Atty. Gen. Cal. 189 (November 16, 2001) 2001 Cal.
AG Lexis 46; 2000 Op. Atty Gen. N.Y. 1001 (March 21, 2000) 2000 N.Y. AG Lexis 2.
We assume that the civil provisions of the Act regulating authorized entry, length
of stay, residence status, and deportation, constitute such a pervasive regulatory
scheme, as would be consistent with the exclusive federal power over
immigration. However, this case [Gonzalez] does not concern that broad scheme,
but only a narrow and distinct element of it — the regulation of criminal42
immigration activity by aliens.
Accordingly, the court concluded that the authority of state officials to enforce
the provisions of the INA “is limited to criminal provisions.”43 The preemption
analysis in Gonzalez has been criticized by some for parsing the INA when statutory
construction and preemption principles generally require consideration of the whole44
statutory scheme in evaluating a specific provision. While Gonzalez appears to
stand for the proposition that states do not possess the authority to enforce civil
immigration laws, it has been argued that the preemption analysis in Gonzalez was
based merely on an assumption and was outside the holding of the case, and thus45
does not constitute binding precedent. Whether this conclusion is completely
accurate has yet to be tested in the courts in a definitive manner, although some
decisions from the Tenth Circuit regarding criminal investigations may be seen by
some as strengthening the role of state and local law enforcement agencies in
In the Tenth Circuit case of United States v. Salinas-Calderon,46 a state trooper
pulled over the defendant for driving erratically but soon found six individuals in the
back of the defendant’s truck. Because the defendant, who was eventually charged
with the crime of illegally transporting aliens did not speak English, the state trooper
questioned the passenger (the defendant’s wife) and learned that the driver and the
other six individuals were in the country illegally. From this line of questioning, the
court determined that the trooper had probable cause to detain and arrest all the
In addition to the probable cause conclusion, the Tenth Circuit determined that
a “state trooper has general investigatory authority to inquire into possible
immigration violations.”47 It has been argued that since there was no reason to
believe that the alien passengers had committed any criminal violations (i.e, they
were only in the country illegally — a civil violation), the court’s statement appears48
to apply fully to civil as well as criminal violations. The Salinas-Calderon court,
however, did not differentiate between civil and criminal INA violations nor did it
42 Gonzalez, 722 F.2d at 474-75.
43 Ibid., at 476.
44 Linda R. Yanez and Alfonso Soto, Local Police Involvement in the Enforcement of
Immigration Law, 1 Tex. Hisp. J.L. & Pol’y 9 (1994), at 28-29.
45 CLEAR Act Hearing, H.R. 2671 (October 1, 2003) (testimony of Kris W. Kobach,
Professor of Law, Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City).
46 United States v. Salinas-Calderon, 728 F.2d. 1298 (10th Cir. 1984).
47 Salinas-Calderon, 728 F. 2d. at 1302 n. 3.
48 See CLEAR Act Hearing, H.R. 2671 (October 1, 2003) (testimony of Kris W. Kobach,
Professor of Law, Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City).
address the charges or judicial proceedings for the six alien individuals found in the
back of the truck. Instead, the focus of the Salinas-Calderon decision was on the
probable cause and potential suppression of the statements made by the six alien
In United States v. Vasquez-Alvarez, an Oklahoma police officer arrested a
Hispanic male suspected of drug dealing because he was an “illegal alien.”49 A
specific provision in the INA (8 U.S.C. §1252c) authorizes state officers to pick up
and hold for deportation a previously deported alien who had been convicted of a
crime in the United States and reentered illegally. Section 1225c requires state
officers to obtain confirmation from the INS before making such an arrest. At the
time of the arrest in Vasquez-Alvarez, however, the state officer did not have actual
knowledge of the defendant’s immigration status or past criminal behavior; it was
only later discovered that the alien had a history of prior criminal convictions and
The defendant argued that the state police could only arrest him in accordance
with the restrictions detailed in 8 U.S.C. §1252c and since his arrest did not meet the
requirements of that provision, it was unauthorized. The Tenth Circuit, however,
ultimately concluded that §1252c “does not limit or displace the preexisting general
authority of state or local police officers to investigate and make arrests for violations
of federal law, including immigration law. Instead, §1252c merely creates an
additional vehicle for the enforcement of federal immigration law.”50
The court also recognized that it had previously determined in Salinas-Calderon
that state law enforcement officers have the general authority to investigate and make
arrests for violations of federal immigration laws.51 The court concluded that the
“legislative history (of §1252c) does not contain the slightest indication that Congress
intended to displace any preexisting enforcement power already in the hands of state
and local officers.”52 While Vasquez-Alvarez may be interpreted to suggest that state
and local police officers do in fact possess the “inherent authority” to enforce all
aspects of immigration law, it should be noted that the case arose in the context of
a criminal investigation and was premised on Oklahoma law, which allows local law
enforcement officials to make arrests for violations of federal law, including
49 United States v. Vasquez-Alvarez, 176 F. 3d 1294 (10th Cir. 1999).
50 Ibid., at 1295.
51 Ibid., at 1296 (citing Salinas-Calderon, 728 F.2d at 1301-02 & n.3 (10th Cir. 1984)).
52 Ibid., at 1299.
53 Ibid., at 1297 (citing 11 Okla. Op. Att’y Gen. 345 (1979), 1979 WL 37653). See also
United States v. Daigle, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14533 (D. Me. July 19, 2005) (finding state
statutory authority for the stop of a person suspected of the federal immigration offense of
entering the country without inspection because (1) the immigration offense was the
functional equivalent to a state Class E or Class D offense and (2) state law authorizes an
officer to make a warrantless arrest for an analogous offense if, among other things, the stop
and arrest are made upon a “fresh pursuit” or “reasonable time” after the commission of the
Expanding on Vasquez-Alvarez, the Tenth Circuit, in United States v. Santana-
Garcia,54 again addressed the role of local law enforcement in immigration. In
Santana-Garcia, a Utah police officer stopped a vehicle for a traffic violation. The
driver of the car did not speak English and did not possess a driver’s license. The
passenger of the car spoke limited English and explained that they were traveling
from Mexico to Colorado, which prompted the officer to ask if they were “legal.”
The passenger and the driver appeared to understand the question and answered “no.”
From these facts, the court held that the officer had probable cause to arrest both
defendants for suspected violation of federal immigration law.
In recognizing that state and local police officers had “implicit authority” within
their respective jurisdictions to investigate and make arrests for violations of
immigration law, the court seemingly dismissed the suggestion that state law must
explicitly grant local authorities the power to arrest for a federal immigration law
violation.55 To come to this conclusion, the court relied upon a number of inferences
from earlier decisions that recognized the “implicit authority” or “general
investigatory authority” of state officers to inquire into possible immigration
violations.56 The court also seemed to rely upon a broad understanding of a Utah
state law that empowers officers to make warrantless arrests for any public offense
committed in the officers presence to include violations of federal law.57
Although the defendants in Santana-Garcia were apparently in violation of a
civil provision of the INA (i.e., illegal presence), the Santana-Garcia court made no
distinction between the civil and criminal violations of the INA, and the authorities
the court cited generally involved arrests for criminal matters. Moreover, it remains
unclear how the court, pursuant to its broad understanding of the Utah state law it
relied upon, would have ruled absent the initial reason for the stop — the traffic
violation. Accordingly, it can be argued that this case still seems to leave unresolved
the extent to which state and local police officers may enforce the civil provisions of
the INA as such.
The aforementioned cases ultimately arose in the context of enforcing criminal
matters or violations of state law. This would seem to weaken the argument for an
independent role in enforcing civil immigration matters. Nonetheless, as the cases
from the Tenth Circuit illustrate, there appears to be a general movement towards
offense (Me. Rev. Stat. Ann. tit. 17-A, §15(2)).
54 United States v. Santana-Garcia, 264 F.3d 1188 (10th Cir. 2001).
55 Ibid., at 1194. The court, nonetheless, cited Utah’s peace officer statute (Utah Code Ann.
§77-7-2) which empowers Utah state troopers to make warrantless arrests for “any public
offense.” The court also found Defendant’s acknowledgment in Vasquez-Alvarez that
Oklahoma law specifically authorized local law enforcement officials to make arrests for
violations of federal law unnecessary to that decision. Ibid., at 1194 n. 7.
56 Citing Salinas-Calderon, 728 F. 2d 1298 (10th Cir. 1984); United States v. Janik, 723 F.
57 Santana-Garcia, 264 F. 3d at 1194 n. 8 (citing Utah Code Ann. §77-7-2).
expanding the role of state and local law enforcement officers in the field of
immigration law, including some aspects of civil immigration enforcement.
Express Authorization for State and Local Law
Enforcement Officers to Enforce Immigration Law
Clearly preemption does not bar state and local immigration enforcement where58
Congress has evidenced intent to authorize such enforcement. In exercising its
power to regulate immigration, Congress is free to delegate to the states, among other
things, the activities of arresting, holding, and transporting aliens. Indeed, Congress
already has created avenues for the participation of state and local officers in the
enforcement of the federal immigration laws.
8 U.S.C. §1357(g). One of the broadest grants of authority for state and local
immigration enforcement activity stems from §133 of the Illegal Immigration Reform
and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which amended INA §287 (8 U.S.C.
§1357(g)). This provision authorizes the AG (now the Secretary of Homeland
enter into a written agreement with a State, or any political subdivision of a
State, pursuant to which an officer or employee of the State or subdivision, who
is determined by the Attorney General to be qualified to perform a function of
an immigration officer in relation to the investigation, apprehension, or detention
of aliens in the United States (including the transportation of such aliens across
State lines to detention centers), may carry out such function at the expense of
the State or political subdivision and to the extent consistent with State and local
Section 1357(g) allows for significant flexibility. It permits state and local
entities to tailor an agreement with the AG to meet local needs, contemplates the
authorization of multiple officers, and does not require the designated officers to stop
performing their local duties.59 In performing a function under §1357(g), the written
agreement must articulate the specific powers and duties that may be, or are required
to be, performed by the state officer, the duration of the authority, and the position60
of the agent of the AG who is required to supervise and direct the individual.
58 Conversely, state action may be preempted where Congress explicitly manifests its intent
in law. Such an intent is evidenced in INA §274A(h)(2) (8 U.S.C. §1324A(h)(2)), which
explicitly prohibits states from imposing civil or criminal sanctions upon those who employ,
recruit, or refer unauthorized aliens. Other provisions that expressly consider the role of
states are INA §287(d) (state and local police are requested to report to INS arrests related
to controlled substances when the suspect is believed to be unlawfully in the country) and
INA §288 (instructing INS to rely on state and local police for the enforcement of local laws
within immigrant stations).
59 Jay T. Jorgensen, Comment, The Practical Power of State and Local Governments to
Enforce Federal Immigration Laws, 1997 B.Y.U. L. Rev. 899, 925 (1997).
60 INA §287(g)(5).
8 U.S.C. §1357(g)(2) requires that state officers “have knowledge of and adhere
to” federal law governing immigration officers in addition to requiring adequate
training regarding the enforcement of immigration laws. Section 1357(g)(3)
mandates that the AG direct and supervise state officers who are performing
immigration functions pursuant to §1357(g). Under §1357(g)(6), the AG, in carrying
out §1357(g), can not accept a service if the service will displace any federal
employee. Officers designated by the AG are not federal employees except for
certain tort claims and compensation matters, but they do enjoy federal immunity.61
Section 1357(g)(9) establishes that a state is not required to enter into an agreement
with the AG under §1357(g); furthermore, under §1357(g)(10) no agreement is
required for a state officer to communicate with the AG regarding the immigration
status of any individual or to cooperate with the AG in the identification,
apprehension, detention, or removal of aliens unlawfully present in the United States.
8 U.S.C. §1103(a)(8). Section 372 of IIRIRA amended INA §103(a) to allow
the AG to call upon state and local police in an immigration emergency (8 U.S.C.
§1103(a)). 8 U.S.C. §1103(a)(8) provides:
In the event that the Attorney General determines that an actual or imminent
mass influx of aliens arriving off the coast of the United States or near a land
border presents urgent circumstances requiring an immediate Federal response,
the Attorney General may authorize any State or local law enforcement officer,
with the consent of the head of the department, agency or establishment under
whose jurisdiction the individual is serving, to perform or exercise any of the
power, privileges or duties conferred or imposed by the Act or regulations issued
thereunder upon officers or employees of the service.
Thus, under 8 U.S.C. §1103(a)(8), state and local officers may exercise the civil or
criminal arrest powers of federal immigration officers (1) when expressly authorized
by the AG; (2) when given consent by the head of the state or local law enforcement
agency; and (3) upon the AG’s determination of an emergency due to a mass influx
of aliens. Any authority given by the AG to state law enforcement officers under this
provision can only be exercised during the emergency situation.
On July 24, 2002, the DOJ issued a final rule that implemented §1103(a)(8) and
described the cooperative process by which state or local governments could agree
to place authorized state and local law enforcement officers under the direction of the
INS in exercising federal immigration enforcement authority.62 In February of 2003,
the DOJ found it necessary to amend the previous regulations, however, because it
determined that the AG did not have the flexibility to address unanticipated situations
that might occur during a mass influx of aliens. The new rules also allow the AG to
abbreviate or waive the otherwise normally required training requirements when such
an action is necessary to protect public safety, public health, or national security.63
61 INA §287(g)(7)(8).
62 Codified at 28 C.F.R. §65.84; see also 67 Federal Register 48354.
63 Abbreviation or Waiver of Training for State or Local Law Enforcement Officers
Authorized To Enforce Immigration Law During a Mass Influx of Aliens, 68 Fed. Reg.
8 U.S.C. §1252c. Section 1252c originated in the House of Representatives
as a floor amendment to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 199664
(AEDPA §439). Section 1252c authorizes the arrest of aliens by state and local
officers who have presumably violated §276 of the INA (Reentry of Removed Alien).
Section 1252c(a) states in part:
[T]o the extent permitted by relevant State and local law, State and local law
enforcement officials are authorized to arrest and detain an individual who —
(1) is an alien illegally present in the United States; and
(2) has previously been convicted of a felony in the United States and deported
or left the United States after such conviction, but only after the State or local
law enforcement officials obtain appropriate confirmation from the Immigration
and Naturalization Service of the status of such individual and only for such
period of time as may be required for the Service to take the individual into
Federal custody for purposes of deporting or removing the alien from the United
The purpose of §1252c was to overcome a perceived federal limitation on the
ability of state and local officers to arrest an alien known by them to be dangerous
because of past crimes committed in their jurisdiction.65 The court in United States
v. Vasquez-Alvarez, however, found that neither the defendant, the government, or
the court could identify any pre-§1252c limitations on the powers of state and local66
officers to enforce federal law. Section 1252c(b) also mandates cooperation
between the AG and the states to assure that information in the control of the AG,
including information in the NCIC, that would assist state and local law enforcement
officials in carrying out the duties of §1252c is made available to the states.
8 U.S.C. 1324(c). Congress appears to have delegated arrest authority to local
law enforcement officers in 8 U.S.C. §1324 (INA §274), which establishes a number
of criminal penalties for the smuggling, transporting, concealing, and harboring of
illegal aliens. Subsection (c) of §1324, entitled “Authority to Arrest” states that:
[n]o officer or person shall have authority to make any arrest for a violation of
any provision of this section except officers and employees of the Service
designated by the Attorney General, either individually or as a member of a class,
and all other officers whose duty it is to enforce criminal laws. (emphasis added)
The plain language in this subsection seems to indicate that local law enforcement
officers — that is, officers authorized to enforce criminal laws — are empowered to
make arrests for the smuggling, transporting, and harboring offenses described in
§1324. The legislative history of §1324 confirms this understanding. The Senate-
passed version of this provision stated that arrests for violations only could be made
64 P.L. 104-132, §439. See 142 Congressional Record 4619 (Rep. Doolittle offering amend.
no. 7 to H.R. 2703).
65 Vasquez-Alvarez, 176 F. 3d at 1299.
66 Vasquez-Alvarez, 176 F. 3d at 1299, n. 4.
by INS agents and “other officers of the United States whose duty it is to enforce
criminal laws.”67 The House, however, struck the words “of the United States,” so
that local officials could enforce this specific provision.68 The elimination of the
limiting phrase “of the United States,” appears to make Congress’s intent clear that
all criminal law enforcement officers, federal or otherwise, are authorized to enforce
As mentioned above, IIRIRA amended the INA by authorizing the AG (now the
Secretary of Homeland Security) to enter into written agreements with states or
political subdivisions of a state so that qualified officers could perform specified
immigration-related duties. This authority was given new urgency following the
terrorist attacks in September 2001. In 2002, the AG proposed an initiative to enter
into such agreements in an effort to carry out the country’s anti-terrorism mission.
Under such agreements, commonly referred to as 287(g) programs, state and local
law enforcement officers could be deputized to assist the federal government with
enforcing certain aspects of immigration law. To date, ICE has entered into such7071
agreements with several jurisdictions. Following is a discussion of selected
Florida’s Memorandum of Understanding
Background. In September 2002, the state of Florida Department of Law
Enforcement (FDLE) and DOJ entered into a one-year Memorandum of Agreement72
(MOA). The MOA was designed as a pilot program that authorized 35 state and
local law enforcement officers to work on Florida’s Regional Domestic Security Task
Forces (RDSTF). The task forces performed immigration enforcement functions that
pertain to domestic security and counter-terrorism needs of the nation and the state
67 98 Cong. Rec. 810, 813 (1952) (emphasis added).
68 Conf. Rep. No. 1505, 82 Cong., 2d (1952). Former Representative Walter offered the
amendment to strike the words “of the United States.” He stated that the purpose of the
amendment was “to make it possible for any law enforcement officer to make an arrest.” 98
Cong. Rec. 1414-15 (1952).
69 As previously discussed, the 9th Circuit in Gonzalez used the legislative history of
§1324(c) to conclude that local law enforcement officers are authorized to enforce all
criminal immigration matters.
70 ICE has 287(g) agreements, for example, with the Alabama Department of Public Safety;
Arizona Department of Corrections; Florida Department of Law Enforcement; Los Angeles
and Orange County Sheriff’s Departments in California; Riverside and San Bernardino
County jails in California; the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s office in North Carolina; and
the Collier County Sheriff’s office in Florida.
71 P.L. 109-90.
72 The MOA was renewed IN 2005 and 2006.
Under Florida’s renewed MOA with DHS, selected officers are authorized to
enforce immigration laws and policies upon successful completion of mandatory
training provided by DHS instructors.73 Officers assigned to the RDSTF are
nominated by the co-directors of each RDSTF and are presented to the FDLE for
consideration. Each nominee has to be a U.S. citizen, have been a sworn officer for
a minimum of three years, and have, at minimum, an Associate Degree. Candidates
also must be able to qualify for federal security clearances. Once selected, each
candidate’s employer has to indicate that it will allow the officer to work a significant
portion of his work responsibilities within the RDSTF for a minimum of one year.
Training. Training for the officers is provided by ICE at a mutually designated
site in Florida. The program uses ICE curriculum and competency testing, which
includes information on the following: (1) the scope of the officer’s authority; (2)
cross-cultural issues; (3) the proper use of force; (4) civil rights law; and (5) liability
issues. Officers also receive specific training on their obligations under federal law
and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations on making proper notification
upon the arrest of foreign nationals. All training materials are provided by DHS,
while the employing agency is responsible for the salaries and benefits of the officers
in training. The FDLE covers the costs of housing and meals during training.
Upon successful completion of the training, DHS provides a signed document
setting forth the officer’s authorization to perform specified immigration enforcement
functions for an initial period of one year. The officer’s performance is evaluated by
the District Director and the FDLE commissioner on a quarterly basis to assure
compliance with the MOA requirements. Authorization of the officer’s powers could
be revoked at any time by DHS, FDLE or the employing agency.
Immigration-related activities performed by the officers are supervised by DHS.
Participating officers cannot perform any immigration officer functions except when
fulfilling their assigned RDSTF duties and under the direct supervision of a DHS
officer. The DHS officer coordinates the involvement of the officers in DHS-related
operations in consultation with the RDSTF supervisor to assure appropriate
utilization of personnel. Under the MOA, officers cannot be utilized in routine DHS
operations unless it relates to the RDSTF’s domestic security and counter-terrorism
functions. All arrest made under this authority must be reported to ICE within 24
hours. To date, Florida has trained and certified 63 officers.
Complaint Procedures. Florida’s MOA requires complaint procedures to
be disseminated throughout the state in English and any other appropriate languages.
Under the MOA, complaints can be accepted from any source and submitted to
federal or state authorities. All complaints received by the federal government,
FDLE or the officer’s employing agency have to be reported to ICE’s Office of
73 Under the MOA, law enforcement officers have the following authorities: (1) interrogate
an alien in order to determine if there is probable cause for an immigration arrest; (2) arrest
an alien without warrant for civil and criminal immigration violations; (3) complete required
arrest reports and forms; (4) prepare affidavits and take sworn statements; (5) transport
aliens; (6) assist in pre-trial and post-arrest case processing of aliens taken into custody by
the ICE; (7) detain arrested aliens in ICE approved detention facilities.
Internal Audit. Under the MOA, complaints reported directly to ICE must be shared
with FDLE, at which time both agencies would determine the appropriate jurisdiction
for the complaint to be resolved. Under the MOA, complainants must receive
notification of the receipt of the complaint, and officers involved could be removed
from participation in activities covered under the MOA pending resolution of the
Program Evaluation. Under the MOA, the Secretary of DHS and the
commissioner of FDLE are require to establish a steering committee to periodically
review and assess the effectiveness of the operations conducted by the task forces.
The reviews are intended to assure that the efforts remain focused on the
investigation of domestic security and counter-terrorism related matters. According
to the MOA, within nine months of certification an evaluation of the program should
be conducted by DHS with cooperation from other involved entities.74
Alabama’s Memorandum of Understanding
Background and Training. On September 10, 2003, the state of Alabama
and DHS entered into an MOA that is similar to Florida’s MOA.75 Officers are
nominated by the Director of the state’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) and
forwarded to ICE. As with Florida’s MOA, all nominees must be U.S. citizens, have
at least three years of experience as a sworn law enforcement officer, and be able to
qualify for federal security clearances. Unlike Florida’s MOA, however, there is no
minimal education requirement. Training is provided by ICE, and the curriculum is
the same as provided in Florida’s MOA. DPS is responsible for all expenses incurred
during training and updated training will be provided to the officers at the end of their
initial year of appointment.
Immigration enforcement activities of the officers will be supervised and
directed by ICE special agents, who are located in Huntsville, Birmingham and
Montgomery, Alabama. Such activities can only be performed under direct
supervision of ICE special agents. Arrests made under the authority must be reported
to ICE within 24 hours, and will be reviewed by the ICE special agent on an ongoing
basis to ensure compliance with immigration laws and procedures. To date, 60
Alabama state troopers have been trained under this program.
Several jurisdictions in Arizona, California, North Carolina, and Tennessee
entered into MOAs with ICE and will act as a force multiplier for the Criminal Alien
Program. They will do so by ensuring that criminal aliens incarcerated at the federal,
state, and local levels are not released back into the community upon the completion
of their sentences. Following is a discussion of two such MOAs.
74 The evaluation should include statistical evaluation, reports, records, officer evaluation,
case reviews, complaint records, site visits, media coverage and community interaction.
75 The MOA was renewed in 2005 and 2006.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department MOA. In February 2005, the
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) entered into an MOA with ICE.
The terms of the MOA are similar to those of Florida and Alabama with several
exceptions. Under the MOA, LASD personnel in county jails are authorized to (1)
complete required criminal alien processing; (2) prepare immigration detainers; (3)
prepare affidavits and take sworn statements (4) prepare Notice to Appear (NTA)
applications; and (5) interrogate in order to determine probable cause for an
immigration violation.76 The MOA explicitly states that both parties understand that
the LASD will not continue to detain an alien after the alien becomes eligible for
release from LASD custody in accordance to applicable law and policy, except for
a period of 48 hours excluding weekends and holidays. The MOA also specifies that
the LASD has sole discretion to terminate the MOA should the State Criminal Alien77
Assistance Program (SCAAP) funding fall below an acceptable level or is
terminated in its entirety.
In September 2005, the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) entered
into an MOA with the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to enhance
Arizona’s capacity to deal with immigration violators in Arizona. The director of the
Arizona Department of Corrections nominated eight correction officer candidates and
two supervisory correctional officers for initial training and certification. All
candidates were required to have a minimum of two years with ADOC and be
bilingual in English and Spanish. Other criteria included not being married to a
person illegally present in the United States, or knowingly having family associations
that could adversely impact their ability to perform ICE functions under the MOA.
The selected officers’ principal assignments are in Phoenix and Perryville. There
is no termination date for Arizona’s MOA, however, it does contain the stipulation
that it can be temporarily suspended should resource constraints or competing
Under the MOA, correctional officers have the following authorities: (1)
interrogate an alien to determine whether there is probable cause for an immigration
violation, (2) complete required arrest reports and forms, (3) prepare affidavits and
take sworn statements, (4) prepare immigration detainers and I-213 Record of
Deportable/Inadmissable Alien reports, and (5) prepare Notice to Appear or other
removal charging documents.
Complaint Procedures. Complaint procedures under these MOAs are the
same as those described in the Florida MOA. Community and media relations in the
MOAs are stressed, and ICE will engage in community outreach with any
organization or individuals expressing interest in the MOAs. All information
released to the media must be coordinated between ICE and state law enforcement
76 The aforementioned functions are usually performed by ICE agents in preparation for
possible deportation proceedings and/or deportation.
77 SCAAP is a federal grant program that reimburses states and localities for correctional
officers’ salary costs incurred for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens.
Commonalities in the MOAs
In all MOAs, officers are treated as federal employees for the purpose of the
Federal Tort Claims Act78 and worker’s compensation claims when performing duties
authorized under the MOAs. They also have the same immunities and defenses of
ICE officers from personal liability from tort suits.79 Under the MOAs, officers
named as defendants in litigation arising from activities carried out under the MOA
may request representation by the DOJ. The MOAs of the participants stipulate that
any party can terminate the MOA at anytime. Currently, none of the MOAs
discussed have termination dates.
Total Number of Law Enforcement Officers Trained. According to
ICE, as of March 2007 a total of 214 police and correctional officers had been trained
under the auspices of the 287(g) program in Arizona, North Carolina, California,
Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee.80 Appendix A shows the participating law
enforcement agencies and the number of law enforcement officers (police and
correctional) that are participating in the program since August 29, 2007.
Legislation in the 110th Congress
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, many have called on state and local
law enforcement agencies to play a larger role in the enforcement of federal
immigration laws. Some question, however, whether state and local law enforcement
officers possess adequate authority to enforce all immigration laws — that is, bothth
the civil violations and criminal provisions. In the 110 Congress, a number of bills
have been introduced that would provide state and local law enforcement officers
immigration enforcement authorities or that would otherwise support the
enforcement of immigration law by state and local law enforcement officers.
S. 1348, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, has provisions
concerning the state and local enforcement of immigration laws that are similar to
those contained in the version of S. 2611 that passed the Senate in the 109th
Congress (see Appendix B for a discussion of S. 2611 and other legislation in the
109th Congress). S.Amdt. 1150, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity, and
Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which was proposed as a substitute to S. 1348, and
S. 1639 contain similar provisions. Specifically, all three legislative proposals would
create a border relief grant program for eligible law enforcement agencies to address
criminal activity that occurred near the border. Under the program, the Secretary of
DHS would be authorized to provide grants to law enforcement agencies located
within 100 miles of the northern or southern border or to agencies outside 100 miles,
78 28 U.S.C. §§2671-2680.
79 5 U.S.C. §§8101 et seq.
80 Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Fact Sheet: Delegation of Immigration
Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act, March 23, 2007.
located in areas certified as “high impact areas” by the Secretary.81 S. 1348, S.Amdt.
1150, and S. 1369 would also authorize DHS to reimburse state and local authorities
for certain training, equipment, transportation, and incarceration costs related to
immigration enforcement, and certain costs associated with processing criminal
illegal aliens through the criminal justice system. Other provisions of these
legislative proposals would, among other things, require DHS to (1) verify the
immigration status of aliens apprehended or arrested by local police; (2) take
possession of illegal aliens within 72 hours after the local police apprehend an alien
or complete the charging process; and (3) designate at least one federal, state or local
prison, jail, private contracted prison or detention facility within each state as the
central facility for that state to transfer custody of aliens to DHS.
Unlike S. 1639 and S.Amdt. 1150, S. 1348 as introduced also contains a
provision reaffirming a state’s inherent authority to investigate, identify, apprehend,
arrest, detain, or transfer into federal custody aliens in the United States, though this
provision only concerns the enforcement of the criminal provisions of the INA. S.
1348 also contains a provision requiring the Secretary of DHS to provide specified
information on certain aliens to the NCIC.82
H.R. 842 would give state and local law enforcement personnel the authority to
investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain, or transfer into federal custody aliens
within the United States. State or local governments that continue to prohibit their
law enforcement officers from assisting or cooperating with federal immigration law
enforcement entities two years after the bill’s enactment would no longer be eligible
for funding under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. The bill would
require DHS to designate one detention facility within each state as a central facility
for law enforcement entities within that state to place aliens. DHS would also be
required to take aliens into federal custody within 48 hours of their apprehension by
state and local law enforcement officers.
H.R. 1645 would affirm state and local law enforcement officers’ right to
enforce the criminal provisions of the INA in the normal course of carrying out their
regular law enforcement duties.83 The bill would also create a Border Relief Grant
Program to provide funding to state and local law enforcement agencies to address
criminal activity within their jurisdiction relating to the lack of security at the border.
Funding would be available to all communities within 100 miles of the U.S. border
81 Title IX of the Senate-passed version of H.R. 5441, the FY2007 Department of Homeland
Security Appropriations Act, would have created the same program. The House-passed
version of H.R. 5441 did not contain such a grant program, and it was not included in the
enacted measure (P.L. 109-295).
82 Under S. 1348, DHS would be required to provide information to the NCIC on aliens who
had: (1) been issued a final order of removal; (2) signed a voluntary departure agreement;
(3) been subject to a voluntary departure agreement; (4) overstayed their authorized period
of stay; and (5) a visa revoked. Similar provisions were contained in the legislation proposedth
in the 109 Congress, including Senate-passed S. 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration
Reform Act of 2006, and House-passed H.R. 1279, the Gang Deterrence and Community
Protection Act of 2005.
83 H.R. 1645, §215.
and to some communities further than 100 miles from the border that have been
designated as “High Impact Areas” by DHS.84
H.R. 1962 would authorize DHS to provide grants to units of local government
to offset increasing expenses related to unauthorized aliens within their jurisdictions,
including, among other things: law enforcement activities, inmate transportation, and
reduction in jail populations.
In addition to the legal complexities that may arise with respect to utilizing state
and local law enforcement to enforce immigration law, several additional issues have
State and Local Policies Regarding Immigration Enforcement
Some jurisdictions have, through resolutions, executive orders, or city
ordinances expressly defined or limited their role and the activities of their employees
regarding immigration enforcement.85 Critics of this approach maintain that these
kinds of policies can create “sanctuary” cities that ultimately encourage illegal
immigration. Supporters of these policies, on the other hand, maintain that they are
called for by resource and legal constraints, the need to avoid the disruption of
critical municipal services, or basic human rights considerations. Although there is
no generally accepted definition of what policies constitute “sanctuary” the issue has
become increasingly contentious.
Other jurisdictions have taken steps to reject what they characterize as
“sanctuary policies” and encourage their law enforcement officers to cooperate with
ICE. For example, on May 1, 2006, the General Assembly of Colorado passed
legislation requiring all peace officers to cooperate with state and federal officials
regarding immigration law. The law also requires each governing body to submit
written documentation that it has informed its peace officers in writing of their
responsibilities regarding such cooperation and statistics regarding the number of
reports made annually to ICE.86 In October 2006, the Houston Police Department,
which some had previously described as having a sanctuary policy, announced that
it would work more closely with immigration officials to identify illegal immigrants
involved in crime. Under the new policy police officers are barred from inquiring
about the immigration status of people who are not under arrest. They will, begin
holding suspects who have confirmed deportation warrants, previously deported
felons, and anyone with a criminal warrant with ICE.87
84 H.R. 1645, §141.
85 See for example, San Francisco (CA) Administrative Code, Section 12H.2.
86 Co. Rev. Stat. §29-29-101.
87 Houston Police Department, HPD Immigration Policy Questions & Answers, accessed at
On January 5, 2006, the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice
Reauthorization Act of 2005 was signed into law.88 The act requires the Inspector
General of the Department of Justice to conduct a study of cities and localities failing
to participate in the implementation of certain immigration provisions, and to provide
the Congress with a list of such areas.
Access to Database
Under current practice, state and local law enforcement officials do not have
direct access to information on the immigration status of an alien. In the course of
their duties, if state and local law enforcement officials encounter an alien whose
immigration status is in question, they can contact the LESC in Burlington,
Vermont.89 Immigration officials at the LESC query a database that contains
information on an alien’s immigration status. If the alien is unauthorized to be
present in the country and the state or local law enforcement official has decided that
the alien will be released from their jurisdiction, immigration officials are notified
to come and pick up the alien.90
In addition to the LESC, state and local law enforcement officials can access the
NCIC for those aliens who are listed as absconders.91 Aliens listed on the absconder
list can be detained by state and local law enforcement officials because they are in
violation of the federal criminal code. It has been reported, however, that the FBI has
a backlog with respect to entering the names of over 350,000 absconders in the
State and local law enforcement officials, however, have reported a variety of
problems with accessing LESC and soliciting the help of federal immigration
officials once it has been determined that an alien is unauthorized to be present in the
country.93 According to some state and local law enforcement officials, it can take
[http://www.houstontx.gov/police/pdfs/immigration_facts.pdf], accessed August 30, 2007.
88 P.L. 109-162; 119 Stat 2960.
89 LESC was established in 1994 and is administered by ICE. It operates 24 hours a day,
seven days a week. LESC gathers information from eight databases and several law
enforcement databases, including the NCIC. In July 2003, LESC processed 48,007 inquiries.
90 Section 642(c) of IIRIRA required the former INS to respond to inquiries from local law
enforcement agencies that sought to ascertain the immigration status of an individual within
the jurisdiction of the agency for any purpose authorized under law.
91 Absconders are unauthorized or criminal aliens or nonimmigrants who violated
immigration law and have been ordered deported by an immigration court.
92 Testimony of INS Commissioner James Zigler, in U.S. Congress, House Appropriations
Committee, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary, Hearing on the
President’s FY2003 Budget Request, March 7, 2002.
93 In some cases, local law enforcement may pick up an alien for questioning and determine
that the alien could be released under normal circumstances, but because the alien has an
several hours to get the results of a single query.94 DHS, however, has reported that,
on average, an immigrant status query takes 15 minutes.95 State and local law
enforcement officials have also reported that federal authorities rarely cooperate once
they have been contacted by a state or local law enforcement entity.96 Whatever the
facts may be, there is a perception on the part of state and local law enforcement
personnel that cooperation could be improved.
One of the overriding concerns with state and local police involvement in the
enforcement of immigration law is the potential for civil rights violations. A person
is afforded certain civil rights under the Fifth Amendment, which guarantees that “no
person shall ... be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without the due process of law
...,” and the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits a state from denying to “any
person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It should also be
noted that courts have reviewed alleged police misconduct under the Fourth
Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Congress has also statutorily prohibited certain discriminatory actions and has
made available various remedies to victims of such discrimination. For example,
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “discrimination under federally
assisted programs on the grounds of race,” which can include federal and state law
enforcement entities. 42 U.S.C. §1983, enacted as part of the Civil Rights Act of
1871, provides a monetary damages remedy for harm caused by deprivation of
federal constitutional rights by state or local governmental officials. The Violent
Crime and Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 included a provision, 42
U.S.C. §14141, which authorizes the DOJ (but not private victims) to bring civil
actions for equitable and declaratory relief against any police agency engaged in
unconstitutional “patterns or practices.”
Because unauthorized aliens are likely to be members of minority groups,
complications may arise in enforcing immigration law due to the difficulty in
identifying illegal aliens while at the same time avoiding the appearance of
discrimination based on ethnicity or alienage. Thus, a high risk for civil rights
violations may occur if state and local police do not obtain the requisite knowledge,
training, and experience in dealing with the enforcement of immigration laws.
illegal status, the officer should turn the alien over to federal authorities.
94 U.S. Congress, House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims, H.R.
October 1, 2003.
95 Congressional Research Service interview with an ICE congressional liaison and official
in December 2003.
96 Reportedly, this is more of a problem in rural areas where the closest immigration official
may be in another state. U.S. Congress, House Subcommittee on Immigration, Border
Security, and Claims, H.R. 2671, The Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal
Moreover, suspects of immigration violations may become victims of “racial
profiling” — the practice of targeting individuals for police or security detention
based on their race or ethnicity in the belief that certain minority groups are more
likely to engage in unlawful behavior or be present in the United States illegally. The
prevalence of alleged civil rights violations and racial profiling among federal, state,
and local law enforcement agencies has already received a significant amount of
attention from the public and the courts.97
The lack of sufficient beds to house immigration violators has been a long-
standing problem. Some contend that a possible unintended consequence of
permitting state and local law enforcement entities to enforce immigration law would
lead to more aliens being detained, which could pose a resource problem for ICE.
By increasing the number of law enforcement officers to enforce immigration law,
they argue, inevitably more undocumented aliens would be detained. States and local
jurisdictions already face some of the same challenges the federal government has
been experiencing with respect to the lack of facilities to house criminal aliens and
non-immigrants who violate immigration laws.98
Pro/Con Analysis of State and Local Law
Enforcement Officials Enforcing Immigration Law
Determining what the proper role of state and local law enforcement officials
is in enforcing immigration law is not without controversy. Lawmakers, scholars,
observers and law enforcement officials have all expressed their opposition or
support for increasing the role of state and local law enforcement with respect to
enforcing immigration law. Following is a discussion of a few of the issues that have
arisen in this debate.
Impact on Communities
Critics argue that utilizing state and local law enforcement to enforce
immigration law would undermine the relationship between local law enforcement
agencies and the communities they serve.99 For example, potential witnesses and
97 See Department of Homeland Security Transition: Bureau of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement: Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, andth
Claims of the House Comm. on the Judiciary, 108 Cong. 66-69 (2003) (statement of the
Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund wherein there were citations made
various examples of racial profiling among federal and state officers).
98 For additional information on aliens in detention, see CRS Report RL31606, Detention
of Noncitizens in the United States, by Alison Siskin and Margaret Mikyung Lee.
99 See for example the testimony of David Harris, Balk Professor of Law and Values,
University of Toledo College of Law, from Senate Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on
Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship, State and Local Authority to Enforce
victims of crime may be reluctant to come forward to report crimes in fear of actions
that might be taken against them by immigration officials. They assert that the trust
between immigrants and local authorities is tenuous in many jurisdictions and that
such a policy could exacerbate the negative relationship.100
Proponents contend, however, that state and local law enforcement officers
would best be able to enforce such laws because they know the communities. They
argue that state and local law enforcement officers already have the power to enforce
criminal immigration violations and have not seen a reluctance on the part of the
communities they serve to cooperate in these investigations.
Opponents argue that state and local law enforcement resources should not be
used to fund a federal responsibility. They contend that such action could result in
the reduction of local law enforcement resources available for other purposes and
constitute a cost shift onto state and local law enforcement agencies. According to
some, local jurisdictions are already witnessing a depletion of traditional funding to
fight crime. These critics also contend that there could be a de-emphasis on certain
types of criminal investigations in an effort to focus on enforcing immigration law,
which would divert law enforcement authorities’ from their primary duties.
Proponents in favor of utilizing state and local law enforcement to enforce
immigration law argue that such assistance would help the federal government to
enforce the immigration law deeper into the interior of the United States. Moreover,
they contend that local law enforcement agencies would bring additional resources
to assist the federal government with enforcing immigration law.101
As previously stated, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there has been increased
emphasis placed on enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. While the role of state
and local law enforcement in enforcing immigration laws continues to be debated,
critics maintain that by allowing state and local law enforcement to enforce such laws
would undermine public safety and could force many undocumented aliens to go
underground, thus making it more difficult to solicit their cooperation in criminal
investigations, which could also include terrorist-related investigations.102
Proponents, however, assert that permitting state and local law enforcement to
enforce immigration law would make it easier to arrest potential terrorists and
Immigration Law: Evaluating a United Approach for Stopping Terrorists, April 22, 2004.
Hereafter referred to as Harris’ testimony.
101 See for example, Harris’ testimony.
criminals who are illegally present in the country, thus providing an elevated level
of security for the nation.103
As previously mentioned, the Secretary of DHS could enter into agreements
with states and localities that would permit qualified officers to perform specified
immigration-related duties. Since federal immigration law is a complex body of law,
it requires extensive training and expertise to adequately enforce. Some argue that
there are a variety of documents that allow someone to be legally present in the
United States and state and local law enforcement officials do not have the necessary
training on how to differentiate between those documents. Additionally, opponents
maintain that the use of fraudulent documents is a growing problem and immigration
authorities must be familiar with the various techniques that are used to misrepresent
Proponents contend that each 287g agreement is unique and the current training
under the program is sufficient to adequately train state and local law enforcement
officials to properly enforce immigration law.105
Possible Policy Approaches
As Congress continues to debate the use of state and local law enforcement
officers to enforce immigration law, it may want to consider several policy options,
which may represent a choice among the options listed below or a combination.
Congress may also choose to take no action, which could leave it to the courts to
define these boundaries.
Direct Access to Databases
Under current practice, state and local law enforcement officials have indirect
access to the immigration status of aliens through LESC and direct access to
absconders through the FBI’s NCIC. Some law enforcement officials argue that
direct access to databases that contain information on the immigrant’s status would
assist them in carrying out their responsibilities more efficiently and effectively.
Opponents, on the other hand, argue that providing state and local law enforcement
officials with direct access to an alien’s personal information could lead to abuse of
103 See for example the testimony of Kris Kobach, former counsel to the Attorney General,
University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, from Senate Judiciary Committee,
Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship, State and Local Authority
to Enforce Immigration Law: Evaluating a United Approach for Stopping Terrorists, April
104 For additional information on immigration document fraud, see CRS Report RL34007,
Immigration Fraud: Policies, Investigations, and Issues, by Ruth Ellen Wasem.
105 See for example, [http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/070622factsheet287gprogover.
htm], accessed on August 29, 2007.
such information by the law enforcement official. Some raise questions about the
quality of the various databases and the potential for false positives, which could lead
to the incarceration of innocent people. While there are critics on both sides of the
issue, there may be a consensus that state and local law enforcement officials need
access to certain information on aliens with whom they come into contact.
According to some, other issues arise when addressing state and local law
enforcement’s access to immigration databases: (1) how much access should be
granted to state and local law enforcement officials; (2) who should have access to
the databases; (3) what level of background clearance would be sufficient for the
officers accessing the database; (4) what type of privacy protection should be given
for individuals whose personal information is being accessed; and (5) how can the
quality of the databases be improved to avoid potential problems such as “false
positives” and individuals with similar names, which could potentially clog up the
Funding for State Cooperation
Congress could appropriate additional funding to state and local law
enforcement agencies for their cooperation with enforcing immigration law.106 A
common argument made by local law enforcement officials against enforcing
immigration law is the lack of resources.107 Many states are facing budget crises and
police departments have seen decreases in federal funding for some law enforcement
State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP).108 Over the past
several years, states and localities have seen a reduction in federal reimbursement for
the SCAAP. SCAAP provides payment assistance to states and localities for the
costs incurred for incarcerating undocumented aliens being held as a result of state
or local charges.109 SCAAP funding was at a historical high in FY2002 when
Congress appropriated $565 million for the program, and while it has received
increased funding when compared to the previous year, its FY2007 appropriations
of just under $400 million remains lower than its FY2002 peak.
106 For FY2007, Congress appropriated $5 million for states and localities who enter into
107 Local law enforcement officials have also made other arguments against enforcing
immigration law as discussed in “Pro/Con Analysis of State and Local Law Enforcement
Officials Enforcing Immigration Law.”
108 For more information about this program, please refer to CRS Report RL33431,
Immigration: Frequently Asked Questions on the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program
(SCAAP), by Karma Ester.
109 Section 241 of the INA created SCAAP.
Criminalizing Civil Immigration Violations
At the center of the current debate to permit state and local law enforcement to
enforce immigration law is whether state and local law enforcement has the inherent
authority to enforce civil immigration violations, such as a nonimmigrant who
overstays his visa. While this issue still appears somewhat unclear from a legal
perspective (see earlier discussion in “Authorities to Enforce Immigration Law” and
“State Involvement in the Enforcement of Immigration Law”), by criminalizing all
civil immigration violations, state and local law enforcement agencies could
seemingly arrest and detain all immigration violators.
While some view this option as closing the existing loophole, others express
concern that state and local law enforcement officials are not adequately trained to
ascertain the difference between a bonafide asylum seeker and an individual who
may be fraudulently trying to circumvent the system. Others express concern that the
pool of violators is great (8 million or more undocumented aliens)110 and the
immigration system is already overburdened. Observers question that if civil
immigration violations were to become criminal would it be retroactive, and if so to
what date; and would it preempt aliens who have civil immigration violations from
adjusting their status?
110 The 2000 Census Bureau estimated that there are approximately 8 million undocumented
aliens in the United States.
Appendix A. List of Law Enforcement Entities
Participating in 287(g) Program
Training DateLaw Enforcement EntityNumber of ParticipantsTrained
August 2002Florida Department of Law Enforcement35 participants
September 2003 Alabama Department of Public Safety21 participants
April 2005Florida Department of Law Enforcement27 participants
October 2005Arizona Department of Corrections12 participants
November 2005 Alabama Department of Public Safety23 participants
December 2005Los Angeles County (CA) Sheriff’s Office8 participants
December 2005San Bernardino County (CA) Sheriff’s Office 10 participants
March 2006 Mecklenburg County (NC) Sheriff’s Office 12 participants
May 2006Riverside County (CA) Sheriff’s Office 10 participants
May 2006San Bernardino County (CA) Sheriff’s Office1 participant
August 2006Alabama Department of Public Safety16 participants
August 2006Florida Department of Law Enforcement1 participant
December 2006Orange County (CA.) Sheriff’s Office14 participants
February 2007Gatson County (NC) Sheriff’s Office10 participants
February 2007 Alamance County (NC) Sheriff’s Office10 participants
March 2007Davidson (Tenn.) County Sheriff’s Office16 participants
March 2007San Bernardino County (CA) Sheriff’s Office1 participant
March 2007Arizona Department of Public Safety10 participants
March 2007Maricopa County (AZ) Sheriff’s Office37 participants
May 2007Colorado State Patrol 22 participants
June 2007Prince William-Manassas (VA) Detention7 participants
Cen t er
June 2007Cobb County (GA) Sheriff’s Office6 participants
June 2007Rockingham County (VA) Sheriff’s Office5 participants
June 2007Shenandoah County (VA) Sheriff’s Office3 participants
June 2007Herndon (VA) Police6 participants
August 2007Collier County (FL) Sheriff’s Office25 participants
Source: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Fact Sheet: Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g)
Immigration and Nationality Act, June 22, 2007, available at [http://www.ice.gov/pi/news/factsheets/
070511factsheet287gtraining.htm], last accessed on August 29, 2007, and ICE News Release, ICE begins
immigration cross-training for Collier County Sheriff’s Deputies, August 21, 2007.
Appendix B. Legislation in the 109th Congress
Several bills in the 109th Congress would have enhanced the role of state and
local law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of immigration law. Only a few
bills, however, passed their respective chambers, and no bill with significant localth
law enforcement measures in the immigration context was passed by the 109
Congress.111 Most provisions affecting the role of state and local law enforcement
were contained in Senate-passed S. 2611, the Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Act of 2006, and House-passed H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and
Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. The following discusses in more detail
H.R. 4437, S. 2611, and other bills that passed their chambers during the 109th
H.R. 4437, as passed by the House, would have “reaffirm[ed] the existing
inherent authority of States,” as sovereign entities (including their law enforcement
personnel), to investigate, identify, apprehend, arrest, detain, or transfer into federal
custody aliens in the United States in the course of carrying out routine duties. Other
provisions in H.R. 4437 would have authorized the Secretary of DHS to make grants
to state and local police agencies for the procurement of equipment, technology,
facilities, and other products that were directly related to the enforcement of
immigration law. H.R. 4437 would have further allowed a state to reimburse itself
with certain DHS grants for activities that were related to the enforcement of federal
laws aimed at preventing the unlawful entry of persons or things into the United
States and that were carried out under agreement with the federal government. H.R.
4437 would have also required designated sheriffs within 25 miles of the southern
international border of the United States to be reimbursed or provided an advance for
costs associated with the transfer of aliens detained or in the custody of the sheriff.
The act would have also required DHS to establish a training manual and pocket
guide for state and local law enforcement personnel with respect to enforcing
Similar to H.R. 4437, the Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act
for FY2006, H.R. 1817, as passed by the House, would have authorized state and
local law enforcement personnel to apprehend, detain, or remove aliens in the United
States in the course of carrying out routine duties. Likewise, it would have
reaffirmed the existing general authority for state and local law enforcement
personnel to carry out the activities mentioned above. No action was taken on H.R.th
111 Several other pieces of legislation were introduced in the 109th Congress that would have
enhanced the role of state and local law enforcement officials in the enforcement of
immigration law, including the Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal Act of
2005, H.R. 3137; the Enforcement First Immigration Reform Act of 2005, H.R. 3938; the
Rewarding Employers that Abide by the Law and Guaranteeing Uniform Enforcement to
Stop Terrorism Act of 2005, H.R. 3333; the Homeland Security Enhancement Act of 2005,
S. 1362; the Comprehensive Enforcement and Immigration Reform Act of 2005, S. 1438;
and the Securing America’s Borders Act, S. 2454. Contrary to these bills, the Save America
Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2005, H.R. 2092, would have limited the role of state
and local law enforcement in immigration law.
In the Senate, S. 2611 would have, among other things, reaffirmed the inherent
authority of states to enforce the criminal provisions of the INA, reimbursed states
and localities for various costs associated with the apprehension and detention of
unauthorized aliens, and required DHS to promptly take into custody illegal aliens
who had been apprehended by local authorities. As mentioned previously, the
provisions contained in S. 2611 concerning state and local enforcement of
immigration laws are largely identical to those found in S. 1348, the Comprehensive
Immigration Reform Act of 2007, which is currently being considered in the 110th
Congress and is discussed in greater detail in the previous section.112
112 See supra at 23.