Immigration deputies at the York County Sheriff’s Office are being recognized for a top rating in their bi-annual inspection – one of only two law enforcement agencies in the country to achieve such a rating in back-to-back audits.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials conducted an audit on the sheriff’s jail enforcement officers who are part of ICE’s 287(g) program and found no deficiencies. The program allows ICE, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, to partner with local law enforcement agencies for immigration enforcement by allowing designated officers to perform the functions of immigration officers.
“We have been known as a model agency for quite some time,” Sheriff Bruce Bryant said, adding that York County was the first agency in South Carolina to get involved in the 287(g) program. “The only way we see these people is for them to violate a statute that causes them to end up in our detention facility.
“If all sheriffs in America had this program, we could really, really make our country a lot safer.”
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The program was created as a “force multiplier” for ICE, said William Sullivan, who manages the federal program in South Carolina. Its name derives from Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which lays out the program’s guidelines.
“We only have three offices in South Carolina,” Sullivan said of ICE. “To cover all 46 counties would be almost impossible. Having a 287(g) program and allowing them to have the same functions and duties as we have ... keeps us able to handle other duties we have throughout the rest of the state.”
Officers participating in the program undergo five weeks of training that includes instruction on immigration law, ethics, racial profiling and criminal investigations. Immigration detention officers decide on a case-by-case basis if an inmate should be detained, according to an intra-agency memorandum of agreement, and have access to federal databases to run fingerprints or background checks on someone believed to be in the country illegally.
The ICE internal affairs division conducts an audit every two years to ensure participating agencies are in compliance with federal statutes. The process typically takes a few days and includes individual interviews with each of an agency’s immigration detention officers.
Sullivan said agencies are graded based on the number of deficiencies found rather than just “pass or fail.”
Currently, 32 agencies in the United States partner with ICE for the program. Besides York County, the only other agency in the country to have no deficiencies in back-to-back assessments is in Tulsa, Okla.
“It’s fairly rare to see no deficiencies,” Sullivan said. “And it’s extremely rare to see it two inspections in a row.”
Since joining the program eight years ago, York County has put some 1,500 inmates from 33 countries in removal proceedings, York County’s program supervisor said. The sheriff’s office asked The Herald not to name that officer for security reasons.
“We’re not just talking about driving without a license,” he said. “We’re talking about murder, rape, child molestation, drug trafficking.”
Bryant said law enforcement agencies in two nearby North Carolina counties the joined the program years ago prompted him to consider it for York County. He said the program hasn’t been as well funded by Congress lately, and he hopes more sheriffs and lawmakers will pick it up.
“We talk about immigration, and all the presidential candidates are talking about immigration – this is a program that can address immigration problems,” he said, adding that he spoke Tuesday with presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “We talked about 287(g). This is a program, I think, he’s going to pick up and run with.
“It’s a program if America gets on board and the sheriffs have the proper funding … (that’s) going to make our communities safer.”