Dozens gathered in Beaufort on Tuesday to push back against Sheriff P.J. Tanner’s plan to revive a team of deputies with power to act as federal immigration agents.
Protesters gathered at Boundary Street and Ribaut Road to distribute signs and note cards. Bearing the homemade signs, the low-key group walked down Ribaut and crossed to stand on the sidewalk in front of the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office on Duke Street.
About 75 people had joined by the time the group reached the Sheriff’s Office.
“Local cops, local laws,” they chanted. Later they sang “God Bless America.”
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The gathering was part of a countywide protest, with another taking place at the same time in southern Beaufort County, organized by the Lowcountry and Beaufort chapters of Indivisible and the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition.
The Indivisible groups are part of a national grass-roots effort that aims to oppose the policies of President Donald Trump.
The Beaufort protesters scrawled notes to Tanner on large, multi-colored index cards asking him to focus resources on local laws. The notes were placed in an envelope and delivered to a receptionist in the Sheriff’s Office.
“I hope he listens to what the people want and acts accordingly,” Lady’s Island resident Pamela Brandon said.
Tanner asked the Department of Homeland Security in February for permission to reinstate the 287(g) task force program and have deputies enforce federal immigration laws.
Opponents of Tanner’s plan have said it will make immigrants less likely to work with local law enforcement and could lead to profiling.
“It was deeply concerning to see the sheriff engage in a request that would lead to such disruption,” said Alison Davidow, with Lowcountry Indivisible.
Tanner said Tuesday the program built a better relationship between law enforcement and the immigrant community when it was in place from 2008 to 2012. He said a partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement would allow deputies to better investigate crimes and that local law enforcement has similar relationships with other federal agencies.
“No one is asking about (memorandums of understanding) with the FBI or DEA or ATF or any of these other outlets, because that’s not the buzz right now,” he said during a news conference Tuesday that included organizers from the southern Beaufort County protest.
The Beaufort group’s permit required them to stay on the sidewalk, and organizers reminded the group to use care about where they parked, stood and crossed the street.
Lady’s Island resident Lisa Allen, who rallied the group briefly while having to stand in Duke Street, encouraged protesters to be vocal and stay long enough to be seen.
“We want to be law-abiding,” she added. “Civil.”