How to Get Beyond the 287(g) Argument

Updated: May 31

The Frederick News-Post, November 14, 2019

By Karl Bickel

In recent years the argument over 287(g) agreements between local law enforcement and jails, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to identify and deport those in violation of immigration laws (usually a civil, not criminal, violation), has approached a boiling point lately here in Frederick County.

There may be a way to achieve consensus between those who support 287(g) and those who oppose the controversial program. In order to move the focus to interests rather than defending positions, it would be helpful to start by centering on areas of agreement.

Certain facts we all agree on:

  • We want a safe and secure community for all, where all can prosper, while enjoying a happy productive life for themselves, their families and their neighbors.

  • We want Frederick to be an economically vibrant community that attracts business and tourists and provides opportunity for all.

  • We want to remove from the streets of Frederick County anyone that is a threat to the safety of those who live, work or visit our community.

  • The immigration issue is something that cannot be solved in Frederick County. It must be addressed and solved by Congress.

Keeping those agreed-upon points in mind, what are we trying to accomplish through the 287(g) agreement? What is the goal? What are the costs? And, are we accomplishing our goal? Whether you are a proponent or an opponent of 287(g), these should be reasonable questions you would like to explore with an open mind to ensure the wise and effective use of your taxpayer dollars.

Those supporting and those opposing 287(g) seem to be talking past each other, taking little time to listen to folks with differing views. They are focused on positions rather than interests. Often, both sides are using limited or misleading information. If we are to ever reach a consensus this must stop.

Other facts that should be considered when trying to reach consensus include:

  • Law enforcement agencies do not have to participate in a 287(g) agreement in order to cooperate with ICE.

  • Law enforcement agencies do not have to participate in 287(g) in order to identify, arrest, prosecute and incarcerate criminal aliens, after which, working with ICE, see they are deported.

  • The 287(g) program is a reactive one that casts a broad net often ensnaring heads of households, mothers and students, people who have worked in and contributed to our communities, in some cases for many years. It is not a carefully targeted, proactive program focused on dangerous criminals as originally intended.

  • Deporting people through 287(g) at great expense does not guarantee they will not return to the U.S. or to Frederick County, as evidenced by those who have been deported numerous times. And we don’t know how many return.

  • A September 2019 federal court decision has ruled ICE detainers unconstitutional.

After examining the goal of the controversial agreement in light of the aforementioned facts, it should be asked, is there an alternative, another way to actually achieve the goal of making our community safer that might be acceptable to both sides in the argument?

One possible alternative to 287(g) would be formulating a proactive multi-agency anti-crime task force that would target criminal aliens, gangs, individual gang members, human traffickers and violent felons, that is, those who pose an actual threat to our community. Proactive, laserlike targeting of these groups and individuals would mark them for arrest, prosecution, incarceration and where called for — following completion of any sentence to prison/jail — deportation.

The aforementioned task force idea is but one approach. Once discussion begins, other viable options might emerge.

It is time to explore reasonable alternatives with a potential for success in achieving the goal of improved safety to our community while advancing a measure of harmony through consensus.

In the words of 20th-century philosopher Rodney King, “can’t we all just get along?”

Karl Bickel, formerly second in command of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and former assistant professor of criminal justice, is retired from the U.S. Department of Justice and writes from Monrovia. He can be reached at

Originally published in The Frederick News-Post:

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