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LA County supervisors drop program that lets deputies act as immigration agents in jails

A deputy with the L.A. Sheriff's Department checks the handcuffs of prisoners.
A deputy with the LA County Sheriff's Department checks the handcuffs of prisoners.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday afternoon to discontinue the immigration enforcement program known as 287(g), which since 2005 has allowed trained deputies to act as immigration agents in county jails.

Supervisors Hilda Solis, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Shiela Kuehl voted in favor of the motion to scrap the program, a voluntary partnership with the Department of Homeland Security.

Under 287(g), sheriff's deputies trained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were tasked with questioning jail inmates about their immigration status, and notifying federal agents.

The board meeting was packed with activists for and against discontinuing 287(g), with dozens of people stepping up to comment before the vote took place. Those against the program said it exacerbated deportations and separated families; those in favor of keeping the program argued that it promoted public safety.

Discontinuing 287(g) "doesn't mean that we’re tying anybody's hands up, or that the Sheriff can't talk with DHS or ICE," said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who recently succeeded Gloria Molina in the First District. Molina was a 287(g) supporter.

Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe voted against ending the program. Antonovich argued that jail interviews conducted under 287(g) helped identify deportable criminals who were not identified under the recently discontinued Secure Communities, a national program that relied on fingerprint data.

The board also voted 4-1 to request the Sheriff's Department to cooperate with the federal government and define best practices in the implementation of a new, non-voluntary federal immigration program that's called the Priority Enforcement Program, or PEP.

PEP replaces Secure Communities. The new program also relies on biometrics, although federal officials say more limits will apply, with a focus on convicted criminals.