Getting off ICE has made communities safer, Georgia sheriffs and activists say

Sheriffs and attorneys in two of Metro Atlanta’s most diverse counties say that a year after cutting ties with a federal immigration program that critics say has resulted in racial profiling, immigrants have more confidence in law enforcement and communities are safer.

Catch up fast: Under 287(g) agreements, local law enforcement officials essentially act as extensions of immigration and customs officials, conducting immigration screening on individuals who are being held in county jails, potentially leading to their deportation.

  • Cobb and Gwinnett counties, which until recently were GOP strongholds, elected sheriffs who promised to end the program.
  • Both counties ended agreements with federal agencies in January 2021.

Why it matters: Proponents have long said that the 287(g) program undermined Latinos’ confidence in law enforcement and discouraged undocumented immigrants from contacting the police if they were the victim of, or had information about, a crime.

What you say: “With the 287(g) program, I received calls whenever a crime was being committed in the immigrant community,” said Jerry Gonzalez, CEO of the GALEO Impact Fund, a 501c4 organization that has helped fight the program.

Using the numbers: Over the past decade, the Gwinnett Sheriff’s Office — then headed by Butch Conway — conducted immigration checks on more than 20,000 immigrants, Mother Jones reported.

  • The department had more 287(g)-related referrals in 2019 and 2020 than any other participating law enforcement agency, accounting for 25% of the nearly 17,000 ICE interactions under the program in 2020, the AJC reported last year.

Earlynonprofits like the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and groups like the GALEO Impact Fund organized voters and residents to pressure sheriffs to end the program.

Gwinnett Sheriff Keybo Taylor did just that on his first day in office in January 2021. About three weeks later, Cobb County’s Craig Owens – also newly elected – celebrated the end of the partnership with GLAHR and other advocates.

  • Owens cut ties with Latino communities and increased events to create new connections with Latino leaders and communities.
  • In Gwinnett, Taylor says the program cost the sheriff’s office up to $3 million a year, and he has diverted some of those funds to fighting human trafficking and gangs.

But, but, but: Adelina Nicholls, the co-founder and chief executive of GLAHR, tells Axios that while people are less afraid to speak to law enforcement, officers still need to be informed about racial profiling and civil liberties.

  • People feel safer going to work, picking up their kids from school, and “doing the normal things that people do every day,” says Nicholls. “I think at least we can breathe better.”
  • “The erosion of trust doesn’t change with the flick of a switch,” says Gonzalez. “Trust has to be earned.”

What’s next: Activists are still waiting for President Biden to fulfill a campaign promise to end the contracts ICE signed with law enforcement during the Trump administration, says Naureen Shah, senior legal adviser on immigrant rights at the American Civil Liberties Union , opposite Axios.

  • Today, more than 140 sheriffs participate in the program.