- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 29, 2020

Republicans’ Georgia election troubles went deep down the ballot last month, including losing two sheriff’s jobs that flipped to Democrats, both of whom have promised to end cooperative agreements with ICE.

Craig Owens, the winner in Cobb County, has said he wants to suspend all dealings with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Keybo Taylor, in Gwinnett County, hasn’t gone that far but is planning to cancel the 287(g) agreement that effectively deputizes the county’s officers to begin the deportation process for deportable migrants booked into local jails.

The results could be devastating to ICE.

Gwinnett this year ranks third of all U.S. counties in migrants flagged for deportation, with the vast majority of those coming out of the 287(g) program.

In Athens-Clarke County doesn’t take part in 287(g), but the incoming sheriff, who unseated a fellow Democrat in a primary this year, campaigned on a promise of refusing other forms of cooperation with ICE, effectively creating a sanctuary.

“Outsiders watching Georgia should know that this is only the end of the beginning of the Democrats’ takeover of a Republican stronghold,” said D.A. King, president of the Georgia-based Dustin Inman Society, which pushes for enforcement of immigration laws. “The 287(g) programs in both counties served to constantly reduce the overall jail population. The howls from the leftists that 287(g) was too successful should be remembered when illegal aliens released for ‘minor offenses’ go on to hurt or kill Americans in Georgia.”

Named after the section of immigration law that created it, the 287(g) program allows ICE to sign partnership agreements with state and local law enforcement. Officers and deputies go through ICE training and can then begin the deportation process for migrants who come through their prisons or jails and are removable under the law.

There used to be another side to 287(g). The task force model trained officers and deputies who went out on patrol, but the Obama administration canceled those agreements.

The Obama team did, though, see value in the jail model. It argued that immigrants with rap sheets were worthy targets for deportation.

Immigrant rights activists disagree. They say too many migrants are being snared for what they consider to be relatively low-level offenses.

Activists have pressured some of the country’s largest jurisdictions to withdraw from the program and, in many cases, to refuse cooperation at all.

Prince William County in Virginia allowed its 287(g) program to lapse this summer. Los Angeles County’s sheriff canceled all cooperation in August.

All told, 28 jurisdictions have ended 287(g) deals, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

Still, more jurisdictions are enrolled now than were at the start off the Trump administration, thanks to strenuous efforts by ICE and sheriffs who see value in cooperating.

In Gwinnett, Sheriff Butch Conway decided to step down after 24 years and didn’t run this year. He said the 287(g) program cut his jail population over the past decade, even as the county grew by more than 300,000 residents.

He said working with ICE helped keep the deportation agency’s own efforts focused on criminals while protecting illegal immigrants who managed to keep clean rap sheets.

“I had been with ICE prior to implementing the program when they attempted to apprehend subjects and took anyone at the location they found without documentation into custody to be deported. Under 287(g), this didn’t occur,” Sheriff Conway told The Washington Times.

He continued: “I believe the program made us safer when serious offenders weren’t released back into the community to commit the same or worse offenses.”

Neither Mr. Taylor nor Mr. Owens responded to multiple requests for comment from The Washington Times, but both confirmed to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this month that they will follow through on their promises to curtail cooperation.

The Times reached out to a number of Georgia-based migrant rights groups, but none replied for this article.

Not all will go free if Mr. Taylor holds to his promise to cooperate with ICE detainer requests. But without deputies on duty 24/7, some will be released without ICE having a chance to pick them up.

ICE is still holding out hope for some cooperation.

“We look forward to working with the newly elected sheriffs to continue our partnership and shared commitment to public safety,” said Thomas Giles, director of ICE’s deportation operations in Atlanta.

Georgia ranks fifth among states with the most ICE detainers over the past 15 or so years, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Gwinnett is by far the largest source of those, and Cobb is second.

In 2019, Gwinnett conducted more than 5,000 interviews with inmates under the program and issued detainers on 2,168. More than 1,800 people were turned over to ICE.

Among those flagged were inmates connected to 20 murder cases, 10 rapes and more than 300 DUIs.

Over the past 15 years, Gwinnett’s county jail ranked ninth of all facilities for ICE detainers, according to Syracuse’s TRAC data.

Through the first nine months of fiscal year 2020, Gwinnett ranked third nationally, not because its numbers were rising but because other jurisdictions’ numbers are falling as they embrace sanctuary policies.

Gwinnett’s sheriff’s office said 13 of its people staff the 287(g) program.

The numbers for Cobb are tougher to pin down. A spokesman for the sheriff’s department there told The Times that the newspaper would have to submit an open-records request to the department. The Times did so, was told no such information was available and was referred back to the spokesman.

According to TRAC, Cobb County fielded about 700 detainer requests in 2018, 574 in 2019 and 299 through the first nine months of fiscal year 2020.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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