The civil rights of individuals detained by state and local law enforcement officers who enforce federal immigration laws are not adequately protected, according to a report released by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. The officers also are not appropriately trained or supervised, according to the report from the office of Richard L. Skinner, the inspector general. Local and state law enforcement jurisdictions are given the authority to enforce federal immigration laws under an agreement with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. The Tulsa County Sheriff’s Department is the sole jurisdiction in the state with such an agreement. It was one of 66 such agreements in 23 states involving more than 800 state and local law enforcement officials in 2009, according to the report. Sgt. Shannon Clark, supervisor of the immigration enforcement program in Tulsa County, said there is room for improvement in any government program. Clark said that some complaints come from disconnects between local jurisdictions and Washington and from the public’s lack of knowledge about the program. "We are an extension to help combat illegal immigration in the country,” said Clark. "We are enforcing federal law through the agreement.” The report cites inconsistent training of officers allowed to enforce the federal laws. Clark said he’s seen seasoned federal agents fail out of the five-week training programs. The department currently has 27 deputies trained to enforce federal immigration law. In 2009, nearly 4,000 detainees were processed through the Tulsa County jail.
What critics sayCritics of the program say officers should only investigate crimes like rapes and murders and overlook federal immigration laws, Clark said. But sheriff’s deputies aren’t out emptying neighborhoods with immigration stings, said Clark. They first encounter the individuals they detain because they were suspected of breaking other laws. The 94-page report also highlights that although federal immigration officials have priorities for immigrant arrest and detention efforts, there is no process in place to make sure the emphasis is on those who pose the greatest risk to public safety. The public should be concerned about this, said Joan Friedland, managing attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. "If law enforcement ... are directing their resources to arresting people on driving charges, they’re not investigating serious crime,” Friedland said. She also pointed out that the report states there is a lack of supervision over immigration enforcement activities. According to the report, "there is no assurance that the program is achieving its goals.” Carl Rusnok, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, said the agency has implemented many changes, including a requirement that local agencies report civil rights and liberties complaints and their outcomes to federal officials. He said the agency has also formed an internal advisory committee for civil rights issues and has outlined priorities in the written agreements with local agencies. Clark maintains that officers on the streets don’t have the time to stop people because of their race. "If someone approaches me and tells me they’re illegal, my first reaction will be to ask them why and help them get the information they need to change that,” he said.