Regardless of how the two Senate contests turn out, the environment in the state of Georgia for immigration enforcement advocates is less favorable than it was before November. Life for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents will be made more difficult by the respective elections of Craig Owens and Keybo Taylor as sheriffs of Cobb and Gwinnett counties.
Democrats Owens and Taylor are now sheriffs of two of the largest counties in Georgia and already have taken action to fulfill their campaign promise to end participation in the 287(g) program, a federal program which allows state and local law enforcement agencies to contract with ICE to assist in immigration enforcement efforts.
On January 1, Taylor officially ended participation in the program, which means that the Gwinnett County Jail will no longer hold illegal alien criminals until ICE agents can take custody. He justified his move by asserting 287(g) is discriminatory and open to abuse and misuse.
“[Abuse of the program] is what I actually saw and feel like that the 287(g) program unfairly targets and it is a very discriminating program toward people of color,” said Taylor.
Both Gwinnett and Cobb use the Jail Enforcement Model, which allows for state and local officers to undergo training, certification and then authorization to perform some immigration functions. In Georgia, there are now five counties and the Georgia Department of Corrections that are part of the program.
Incoming Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens vowed to get rid of his county’s participation within his first 100 days. In campaigning for office, Owens highlighted his intent to eliminate the program and divert 287(g) funds to so-called community outreach programs.
Those funds might be better utilized on efforts to protect residents from threats from the kinds of criminal aliens the county used to detain. According to the last two ICE monthly 287(g) encounter reports, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office encountered a Jamaican national in November who had been sentenced to ten years for the conviction of armed robbery, possession of a firearm in commission of a felony and possession of marijuana. In October, authorities stopped an illegal alien from Mexico who who had two prior convictions for driving under the influence.
More broadly, according to Pew Trusts, in Gwinnett County, there were 4,211 immigration arrests between 2015 and 2018, while Cobb County was second with 1,435 arrests since 2015. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are an estimated 37,000 illegal aliens living in Cobb County and 69,000 in Gwinnett County.
For a glimpse into the possible future for these two Georgia counties, just look to North Carolina. In 2018 voters in Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, elected as sheriff Garry McFadden, who promptly ended the program.
Contrary to the argument made by opponents of the voluntary public safety program, 2019, their communities were not made safer by 287(g)’s elimination. In 2019, a senior Department of Homeland Security official told WBTV, “The level of criminal aliens intentionally released into Mecklenburg and the surrounding counties is alarming, but even worse is that the true extent of this dangerous trend may never be fully realized.”
In remarks made in February, U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray took aim at several sanctuary counties in North Carolina, including Mecklenburg County.
“In 2019, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office alone failed to honor over 200 detainers issued by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), which means that more than a couple of hundred criminal aliens charged with criminal offenses were released back to the community. And those are the ones we can account for,” stated Murray.
Accountability, however, is still possible. With Republicans in control of the state legislature in Georgia, they could pass a measure requiring all law enforcement departments to cooperate with ICE.
But cooperation will require a willing partner in Washington. As president, Joe Biden could take executive action to end any agreement taken during the Trump Administration and try to limit others, as he promised to do during the campaign. The good news for all Georgians is that there is nothing in the law preventing them from righting their wrong in the next election.