The Baton Rouge Immigrants’ Rights Coalition has started an online petition asking the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office (EBRSO) to end an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that “deputizes EBRSO law enforcement and requires them to identify, arrest, and process persons for deportation in EBR parish jail or correctional facilities who they consider to be in violation of immigration law.”
There are limits to the effectiveness of online petitions, but they do send a clear signal, and if you'd like to register your opposition to such an arrangement, please do so by 5 p.m. Thursday, April 25. And there is good reason to. Studies show that arrangements like this one around the country work far better for ICE than for the local law enforcement and the immigrant communities that they serve. Many immigrant communities have been reluctant to interact with police and report crimes for fear that such actions might expose them to immigration-related repercussions. Linking ICE to a local law enforcement agency like EBRSO gives immigrants further reason to be suspicious of police.
The program is referred to as 287 (g) because it comes from Section 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), and the Lexington, South Carolina Sheriff Department entered into one in 2017. According to Lexington Sheriff Jay Koons, “If somebody has not committed a crime, there is no fear (of deportation). We’re not out on the street doing any round-ups based on immigration status. We’re policing like we always have and always will, and we’re going to treat all victims fair and work with them.”
Lexington’s immigrant community has not found Koons’ guarantee reassuring and is reluctant to contact the sheriff’s office for fear that complaining will put those who need help on ICE’s radar. Law enforcement agents in offices that have entered into 287 (g) agreements have the authority to
- interview individuals to ascertain their immigration status
- check DHS databases for information on individuals
-issue immigration detainers to hold individuals until ICE takes custody
- enter data into ICE’s database and case management system
- issue a Notice to Appear (NTA), the official charging document that begins the removal process
- make recommendations for voluntary departure in place of formal removal proceedings
- make recommendations for detention and immigration bond, and
- transfer non-citizens into ICE custody.
Lexington’s immigrant community is not alone. A 2018 study found that 64 percent of immigrants were unlikely to report crimes that they witnessed if they knew that the police worked with ICE, and 42.9 percent were unlikely to report crimes in which they were the victims under those conditions. Countless stories show that their fears come from a real place. When a foreign national in Lake County, Florida called the police to report that her sister was a victim of domestic abuse from her boyfriend, police showed up at the home of the woman who called. When she didn’t speak English to police officers, she became the target of their investigation and when the only papers she could produce was a bank card, she was arrested. The officers didn’t pursue the domestic abuse incident that she reported.
There are countless stories like that one—not all in 287 (g) communities, though Lake County is—that feed the anxiety, as does the fact that sheriffs are elected, and many run on a get-tough-on-immigrants platform. And although the heated rhetoric presents immigrants as drug dealers, killers, and gang members, 287 (g) law enforcement agencies tend to aim lower. For every Las Vegas that issue 70 percent of their detainers for ICE’s Level 1 and 2 offenders—those who have committed felonies and serious offenses—there are many places like Cobb County in Georgia and Frederick County in Marylands where 80 percent of their detainers were issued for Level 3 priorities—traffic offenders or undocumented immigrants encountered during basic police operations. Nationally, half of the detainers issued are for misdemeanors and traffic violations.
Those who are concerned about the East Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office and its arrangement with ICE should certainly sign the petition, but other, more active ways of letting the sheriff’s office and East Baton Rouge politicians know you believe it runs counter to American and Louisianan values would be more effective.