Three Democratic sheriffs who have promised to sever ties with U.S. immigration and customs will soon take office in some of the most populous counties in Georgia and South Carolina after defeating the Republicans.
All have promised to end longstanding agreements with the federal government that allow sheriffs to question people about their immigration status and detain them on immigration charges.
These agreements, known as the 287 (g) agreements under the section of the Immigration and Citizenship Act that created them, date back to before President Donald Trump. But Trump has significantly expanded the 287 (g) program, enacting an executive order in the first few weeks of his presidency that allowed him to quickly sign other such agreements with local law enforcement agencies to arrest and unauthorized immigrants living in the United States to arrest. In fiscal 2019 alone, the agreements enabled local law enforcement to arrest nearly 25,000 immigrants.
Opponents say they encourage suspicion of law enforcement in immigrant communities, lead to racial profiles, result in few arrests of violent criminals who should be prioritized for deportation, and prove costly to local authorities to pay the costs of carrying them out.
In Georgia’s Gwinnett County, the Democrat Keybo Taylor, a police major, prevailed against the deputy sheriff chief Lou Solis. The county’s 287 (g) treaty was used to refer more than 21,000 people in the county to ICE over the past decade. That made ICE one of ICE’s largest local law enforcement partners outside of the counties on the US-Mexico border.
“On the campaign trail, I listened to your needs for hours. They have raised concerns about community inclusion, neighborhood safety, the 287 (g) program, and non-violent interaction with law enforcement officers, ”Taylor told his supporters in a letter last week. “In the months ahead, my team and I will implement solid plans to address these concerns. My goal as your sheriff is to run an office that truly serves the needs of all voters in our county. “
In nearby Cobb County, Democrat Craig Owens, also a police major, ousted incumbent Republican Sheriff Neil Warren, who has served 17 years and became the first sheriff in the state to sign a 287 (g) agreement. Taylor and Owens are also the county’s first black sheriffs.
And in Charleston County, South Carolina, Kristin Graziano, a former deputy sheriff’s office on leave after her candidacy was announced, defeated incumbent Sheriff Al Cannon, who had never seen a serious challenger before and ran unimpeded in the general election for eight terms.
Democrats also fought off pro-ICE sheriff candidates in Hamilton County, Ohio, and Maricopa County, Arizona, where infamous former sheriff Joe Arpaio once targeted immigrants in an attempt to enforce one of the most restrictive laws in the country known to me can show his papers.
The election of these sheriffs, who have made severing ties with ICE a central message of their campaigns, is a triumph for immigration activists. They see it as a signal that the public does not believe that local law enforcement should be involved in efforts to deport members of their communities and instill fear among immigrants.
“I think voters tend to view immigration as a federal matter and therefore often do not want their local police, which is focused on the public safety of everyone in the community, to be distracted from efforts to attract immigration agents “Said Ronald Newman, the political director of the American Civil Liberties Union, who worked with grassroots organizations in Georgia and South Carolina to bolster support for the anti-ICE sheriff candidates.
“Ultimately, the local police should do their job, not the federal government, and we try to capitalize on that feeling when we do this job,” he added.
Immigrant advocates argue that 287 (g) violates public safety
Immigration rights advocates argue that the 287 (g) program does not improve public safety, it undermines it.
There are two types of 287 (g) agreements that local law enforcement agencies can sign: the prison enforcement model and the warrant service officer model. The prison enforcement model enables local law enforcement agencies to interrogate individuals arrested on state or local charges for immigration status and process them for deportation by ICE. The restricted arrest warrant officer model created by the Trump administration in May 2019 trains local law enforcement agencies to execute civil immigration orders issued by ICE for the arrest of unauthorized immigrants, even in places where protective measures have been taken. However, it does not allow local law enforcement to question people about their immigration status.
Both types of agreements formalize the collaboration between the federal government and local law enforcement agencies. But even without these agreements, local law enforcement agencies could choose, for example, to share information with ICE or allow the agency to go to local prisons without a judicial warrant, unless state and local governments have otherwise prohibited these practices.
While the Trump administration has relied on the program to keep criminals off the streets, the Institute for Migration Policy found that half of all requests for detention of unauthorized immigrants issued under the program were directed at individuals who committed wrongdoing and traffic offenses had committed.
In places like Alamance County, North Carolina and Maricopa County, Arizona (which has since ended its agreement), the program resulted in widespread racial profiling of Latinos, damaging the relationship between law enforcement and the community. Both the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represent law enforcement agencies in the United States and Canada, have stated that unauthorized immigrants are more likely to be afraid to turn to the police or help with an investigation without going assure that they will not be deported.
Trump also made changes to the 287 (g) program. While the agreements were previously designed to expire after three years and have regular discussions at local level about whether they should be renewed, ICE is no longer setting end dates for the agreements. The agency has also allowed local law enforcement agencies to arrest unauthorized immigrants and refer them to deportation proceedings without prosecution in a criminal court, resulting in unsubstantiated arrests.
Ending these agreements would foster more trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities.
“There’s a hug that is signaled when a sheriff steps out of one of these agreements that I think is having a really significant effect in these communities,” Newman said. “The message that is being conveyed is that you are a full member of this community and that it is my job to protect and serve you.”
Biden could unilaterally end the 287 (g) program
The 287 (g) program was created under law signed by President Bill Clinton and endorsed by the then Sen. Joe Biden and other Democrats. But Biden vowed this August that he would end all new 287 (g) agreements by the Trump administration and “end the use of 287 (g) and similar programs that force local law enforcement to take on the role of immigration enforcement, aggressively restrict “.
Currently, a total of 148 jurisdictions have signed 287 (g) agreements, including 126 that did so under the Trump administration.
“We would encourage him to go one step further and actually end all 287 (g) agreements in full, and he can do this completely himself – no need to speak to Congress,” Newman said of Biden.
In addition to 287 (g) agreements, there are other programs that allow federal immigration services to represent local law enforcement agencies.
And under intergovernmental service agreements, the federal government is paying local authorities to provide space in prisons and jails to detain unauthorized immigrants beyond 48 hours for incarceration in non-ICE facilities for violating immigration regulations.
Biden would also have the power to unilaterally stop these programs, but he has not yet worked out his plans. During the campaign, he promised to focus on deporting only immigrants who pose a threat to national security and public safety and to improve accountability for immigration authorities like ICE without going into details.
But even if Biden keeps some or all of these programs intact, the ACLU intends to exhaust opportunities to attract sheriff candidates who oppose such collaboration with federal immigration services in the 2022 election cycle.
Frederick County, Maryland, where the sheriff’s office recently banned profiling or targeting people based on immigrant status and arresting people on ICE warrants, appears to be moving in the direction of severing ties with ICE. Other destinations, however, could be Alamance County, North Carolina; Counties of Bristol, Plymouth, and Barnstable in Massachusetts; and Kenosha County, Wisconsin.
“It’s a second resiliency that makes us feel that there is no local involvement in enforcing federal immigration laws regardless of who is in office and what request they make,” Newman said.
Support Vox explanatory journalism
At Vox, we want to answer your most important questions every day and provide you and our audiences around the world with information that empowers you through understanding. Vox’s work reaches more people than ever before, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism is consuming resources. Your financial contribution is not a donation, but it does allow our staff to continue offering free articles, videos and podcasts to everyone who needs them. Please consider contributing to Vox today, starting as low as $ 3.