On December 15, Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois introduced his version of Comprehensive Immigration Reform to the House of Representatives. Amongst its many provisions, the bill would eliminate the successful 287(g) immigration enforcement program in which local law enforcement are trained and deputized by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to carry out federal immigration law.

Yet, Gutierrez’s bill is not the only blow made against 287(g) this year. Following an early 2009 GAO report that resulted in claims of racial profiling and a lack oversight and direction within 287(g), the Obama administration announced changes to the Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) that are signed by participating agencies. Law enforcement must now pursue the criminal charges for which an illegal alien is arrested rather than simply initiating removal, and are to limit immigration status checks to only those arrested for “major” offenses. These changes were a strike against the very heart of the program.

In the past seven years, more than 120,000 illegal immigrants have been identified within the US by the 66 state and local law enforcement agencies that have signed Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) to participate in 287(g). This program has helped to remove dangerous criminal aliens from the US. For example, one participating agency, the Davidson County Sherriff’s Office, has cited 287(g) in leading to the arrest of 90 gang leaders within their jurisdiction.

Before 287(g), when a suspected illegal immigrant was identified by local law enforcement, all that could be done was notify ICE and wait. In many cases, this meant that illegal immigrants went free because ICE simply did not have the manpower to retrieve all such individuals. 287(g) has offered a crucial force multiplier, adding roughly 1,000 deputized state and local law enforcement officers to the mix of those able to enforce federal immigration law.

287(g) offers a key tool in fighting crime and removing illegal immigrants from the United States. Recent legislation and executive action should not be allowed to bring an end to such a vital immigration enforcement program.