Immigration Enforcement

LIRS advocates for the humane enforcement of U.S. immigration laws.  Our advocacy work is informed by congregations, individuals, and our service partners throughout the country.  What we know from these partners is that migrant communities across the country are being devastated by federal laws and programs that focus only on immigration enforcement. These federal programs, which are operated at the local level, corrode trust among neighbors and waste resources by turning local law enforcement personnel into immigration agents.

For example, the 287(g) program allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deputize state and local law enforcement officers to perform the functions of federal immigration agents. Under 287(g), deputized officers may access federal immigration databases, arrest and interrogate those they suspect of violating immigration laws, and lodge “detainers” to hold migrants in state and local custody for immigration purposes. This program lacks adequate federal oversight, diverts resources away from local law enforcement, and promotes fear and distrust among migrant communities and local police.

In efforts to increase trust between migrants and law enforcement officers, use resources wisely, and prevent local governments from being held liable for holding migrants in detention without probable cause, many communities have started to move away from these programs.  Over the past several years, three states, the District of Columbia and at least 259 cities and counties refused to honor ICE detainer requests or significantly narrowed restrictions on state and local immigration enforcement activities.

Recent Changes to Immigration Enforcement

On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced executive actions intended to resolve some of the broken components of our current immigration system. These changes are known collectively as the “Immigration Accountability Executive Actions.” One component of these actions was the creation of a new “Priority Enforcement Program” (PEP) and the discontinuation of a program known as “Secure Communities.” This new program seeks to identify deportable individuals in law enforcement custody, but will lead to immigration enforcement actions against only those individuals who pose a threat to our communities. It also includes accountability and transparency measures.

“Secure Communities” was a program that required law enforcement agencies to send fingerprints routinely collected when a person is apprehended to the FBI to screen for fugitives and ex-convicts. This often resulted in migrants without lawful status who may have been stopped for a routine traffic violation being picked up by ICE, detained and deported. While the stated purpose of Secure Communities was to apprehend violent criminals and reduce the crime rate, instead it was often applied to individuals with arrests, but no conviction resulting in separated families.  This led to mistrust between local communities and the police.

LIRS is pleased that the flawed Secure Communities program has been discontinued and that the replacement program seeks to address many of its faults. Our hope is that immigrant communities will no longer lose members to deportation as a result of seeking help from local law enforcement agencies and will begin to trust in law enforcement. We pray that the elimination of Secure Communities and the creation of the Priority Enforcement Program is part of a broader shift to more careful and just enforcement of immigration laws.

LIRS’s Position

LIRS believes newcomers enrich our congregations and communities. Developing and nurturing trust between law enforcement agencies and migrant communities builds safer neighborhoods for all. We have continuously advocated for immigration policies based on trust that create strong communities.  Enforcement-focused state laws and programs are an obstacle to achieving what America really needs—humane and compassionate federal immigration laws and policies. As Congress and the Administration consider different immigration laws and policies, LIRS continues to advocate for meaningful changes that support our principles for the fair and compassionate treatment of all newcomers.


The Michael Davis Jr., in Honor of State and Local Law Enforcement (H.R. 1148), (previously known as the SAFE Act) introduced in the 114th Congress, is flawed legislation that would decrease access to justice, protections, and immigration relief for certain migrants. Among other troubling provisions, H.R. 1148 would:

  • Make it a crime to be unlawfully present in the United States
  • Allow expansion of the 287(g) program, which burdens local law enforcement by requiring them to act as immigration enforcement officials and creates mistrust between migrant communities and law enforcement agencies
  • Authorize all states and localities to create their own immigration enforcement laws
  • Subject certain migrants who cannot be returned to their countries of origin, including stateless persons, to indefinite detention
  • Expand the categories of migrants who are mandatorily detained

LIRS has consistently opposed this and other pieces of legislation that focus only on harmful immigration enforcement activities and fail to live up to our legacy as a nation of welcome for those fleeing persecution.

LIRS Resources

How You Can Help