Trust and tax dollars — two issues at the heart of Tuesday’s scheduled protests against Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner’s desire to task deputies with enforcing federal immigration law.
Leaders of three local activist groups say a revival of the 287(g) Task Force Program — which would allow specially trained deputies to investigate, apprehend and detain immigrants who are in the United States illegally — will damage the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office’s relationship with the immigrant community and constitute a misappropriation of funds and resources.
Tanner says the program will allow his office to combat crime quicker, expel violent criminals and better investigate criminal activity.
The protests, scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday in Beaufort and Bluffton, will play out as President Donald Trump continues to lay out his policies on immigration and border security, stances that support Tanner’s wish for an immigration-enforcement task force.
Here are three things to know about the issues, the concerns and 287(g).
1. The president wants it back
Trump’s January executive order, “Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” empowers state and local law enforcement agencies to “perform the functions” of immigration officers to “the maximum extent permitted by law.”
It also calls for the Department of Homeland Security to begin laying the foundation with state and local officials for 287(g) agreements — the task force programs were curtailed under then-President Barack Obama.
The order specifies enforcement priorities, including “removable” immigrants who have, among other things: committed “any criminal offense”; been charged with a crime; done something that constitutes “a chargeable offense”; and who, “In the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.”
Bluffton immigration attorney Aimee Deverall worries how those priorities — which are broad and need further clarification, she said — will be applied in practice, and who will be affected.
Tanner has said on multiple occasions that he’ll target “the worst of the worst,” and that legal immigrants and Dreamers — undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. by their parents — won’t be targeted.
“We have a president right now who signed executive orders saying if you have been arrested for anything, if you have been convicted of anything or if police officers suspect that you committed the act ... and you have never even been arrested for it, you become a removal priority,” Deverall said.
“So when our local police are now trained immigration officers,” she said, “how can anyone possibly feel comfortable going to the police about things?”
Tanner has said immigrants want criminals out of their community, too, and a task force that better equips his office to remove them will encourage witnesses to report crimes.
2. The program had problems in the past
Three federal reviews of the 287(g) Task Force Program in 2009 and 2010 highlighted concerns ranging from poor supervision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to a diminished emphasis on civil rights.
The most infamous program belonged to the Maricopa County (Ariz.) Sheriff’s Office, which a federal judge ruled in 2013 violated Latinos’ civil rights through racial profiling.
When asked to address concerns of potential racial profiling, Tanner said his deputies’ special training and ICE’s supervision would prevent that from happening.
A March 2010 U.S. Office of Inspector General report analyzed arrest data and found that only 9 percent of immigrants arrested were “Level 1” immigrants — those classified at the time as murderers, rapists, robbers, kidnappers and other serious criminals. The data didn’t reflect the program’s mission, the report said.
The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette are in the process of obtaining local task force data from that time.
In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Feb. 24, Tanner said his office’s task force was “very successful in meeting the goals and objectives” from 2008 to 2012, when the sheriff had a memorandum of agreement in place with ICE.
“We very much look forward to a renewed relationship with the DHS and the local personnel of ICE,” Tanner wrote in the letter, in which he asked Kelly to reinstate 287(g). “The strength of the immigration enforcement functions within Beaufort County ... was an intricate (SIC) ingredient in the mission statement of the Department of Homeland Security.”
3. Tanner says it will help him better fight crime
Aside from being able to conduct its own immigration investigations and act on ICE tips, the big benefit in Tanner’s eyes is the computer system.
Having an ICE computer system on site means he won’t have to call ICE agents in Charleston — like he currently does under the Secure Communities model — to get “real-time” data on suspects and victims.
The computer will speed up criminal investigations, he said, meaning he’ll have more information that could result in quicker warrants and bonds that more accurately reflect a person’s criminal history.
And when it comes to detentions and deportations, that’s ICE’s call, Tanner said.
“It seems a very serious misappropriation of resources to devote deputies to an effort that could and should be undertaken by federal officials,” Beaufort SC Indivisible’s Alison Davidow said.
And from the standpoint of the immigrant community, she worried, the “trust factor” between it and local law enforcement would be “terribly damaged.”
Beaufort SC Indivisible, Lowcountry Immigration Coalition and Lowcountry Indivisible are co-sponsoring rallies scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. in Beaufort and Bluffton. After each rally, small groups of protesters will hand-deliver letters to nearby Sheriff’s Office facilities.
In Beaufort, the rally will begin on the sidewalk near Sgt. White’s Restaurant and proceed down Ribaut Road toward the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office. Beaufort SC Indivisible’s Alison Davidow expects between 20 and 30 people.
In Bluffton, protesters will meet on the sidewalk bordering S.C. 46 between the post office and Bluffton Community Library. Lowcountry Indivisible’s Mitch Siegel hopes to have between 50 and 75 people at the rally.