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Illegal-immigration enforcement program takes a toll on U.S. Hispanic populations, report says

The report says that targeting serious criminals makes more sense as an enforcement strategy, particularly when government resources are limited.

Pursuing unauthorized immigrants who haven't committed serious crimes "takes away resources to go after what everybody believes are the high-priority criminals," said Marc Rosenblum, a senior policy analyst at MPI and one of the report's authors. "You can't have them be a top priority and then have the waitress or the gardener who's never broken a law except to be here illegally, you can't have them both be the top priority. When these state and local enforcement agencies fill up the detention centers and jails with low-priority cases . . . it compromises ICE's ability to do high-priority enforcement."

It also sows fear and distrust between local immigrant communities and the police, the report says.

Immigration advocates have long decried the 287 (g) program, saying that it leads to racial profiling and destroys relationships between police and immigrant communities.

Because of the controversy surrounding it, the program's growth has stalled. Another enforcement program, Secure Communities, has largely replaced it at the local level, although Secure Communities has been attacked for some of the same reasons.

Nationally, 998 jurisdictions in 38 states participate in Secure Communities, including the District and parts of Northern Virginia and Maryland. The program, which costs about $100 million annually, has been criticized in Arlington County and the District, where local officials worry that it is discouraging undocumented immigrants from reporting crimes.

ICE has said it plans to expand the program to every state by 2013.

Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a supporter of both enforcement programs, said he thinks that allowing jurisdictions to apply the 287 (g) program differently is positive, especially given variances in concentrations of immigrants in different areas.

"I would say that's a plus," he said. "I think it's an example of localities and states being the great laboratories for policy development."

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