Cory Booker renews push to end controversial ICE program

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Sen. Cory Booker is reintroducing legislation Tuesday to block controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement partnerships with local law enforcement, making the New Jersey Democrat the latest presidential candidate to stake out a position on the issue this year.

By amending section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, Booker’s “PROTECT Immigration Act” seeks to end ICE’s practice of effectively training and deputizing local law enforcement as federal immigration agents.

“With limited time and resources, local and state law enforcement should be focused on keeping their communities safe and pursuing serious threats, not acting as ICE agents,” Booker said in a statement.

The bill is likely dead on arrival in the GOP-led Senate, under a president that has championed the program’s expansion. The White House boasts it has “more than doubled the number of jurisdictions participating in the 287(g) program.”

Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, is also reintroducing the measure in the House. The effort may fare better there under the chamber’s Democratic majority. 

In the last Congress, Booker’s measure garnered no Republican cosponsors in the House or the Senate. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, who are also running for the Democratic presidential nomination, were among the eight senators who had cosponsored the proposal. 

But the move’s symbolism will not be lost on progressive activists who have denounced the partnerships and demanded local authorities terminate their agreements. Eighty law enforcement agencies across 21 states have signed 287(g) agreements, according to ICE

The issue could be key in immigrant-heavy Nevada, an important early caucus state, where many Democrats have been fighting to block the agreements. But few presidential candidates have campaigned on the issue. Only former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, the first to propose a comprehensive immigration plan, has explicitly called to end the program as part of his policy platform.

“There are officers inside the Clark County Detention Center, our main jail, that are actually employed by our local police. But if you meet them, you will think they are ICE officers,” Michael Kagan, director of the University of Nevada Las Vegas Immigration Clinic, told CBS News earlier this month

“They will function as immigration officers inside the jail, screening out people and starting the deportation process against them.”

Booker’s measure does not end other controversial administration efforts on immigration, nor does it block ICE detainers. Detainers are requests by the agency for local authorities to not release undocumented immigrants arrested for other crimes, so that the Department of Homeland Security can assume custody for deportation. 

But the measure could curb a recently announced ICE program to sidestep policies curbing local authorities’ cooperation with federal immigration enforcement.

The agency says that authority for the “Warrant Service Officer” program, launched at a signing ceremony in Florida, is derived from 287(g). There are ten such jurisdictions already participating in the program: Pinellas, Brevard, Charlotte, Columbia, Manatee, Polk, Sarasota, Walton, Levy, and Hernando counties in Florida.

ICE has defended the partnerships, the agency’s acting director arguing that policies limiting cooperation with ICE “undermine public safety, prevent the agency from executing its federally mandated mission, and increase the risks for officers forced to make at-large arrests in unsecure locations.” 

“When criminal aliens are released from local or state custody, they have the opportunity to reoffend. There are also many risks and uncertainties involved when apprehending dangerous criminal aliens at-large in the community,” ICE spokesperson Matthew Bourke tells CBS News in an statement.

“It is much safer for everyone — the community, law enforcement, and even the criminal alien — if ICE officers take custody of the alien in the controlled environment of another law enforcement agency as opposed to visiting a reported alien’s residence, place of work, or other public area.”

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