The Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates voted Wednesday evening, January 3, to reject a proposed resolution that opposes a partnership between the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Office and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
The vote followed a two-hour public hearing during the assembly’s regular meeting after 23 people provided public comment.
More than 50 people packed the assembly chamber at the First District Courthouse in Barnstable, and nearly 50 people watched the proceedings on video screens in an overflow room in a county building near the courthouse.
The 15-member assembly, the county government’s legislative branch, voted 57.16 to 40.54 percent to oppose the resolution, which Provincetown delegate Brian O’Malley proposed in the fall.
Mr. O’Malley said in a contentious December assembly meeting that he presented the resolution, which he called an official opinion, to allow community members to participate in conversations about the issue even though the assembly holds no authority over the functions of the sheriff’s office.
The Barnstable County Board of Regional Commissioners, the county government’s executive branch, voted unanimously in November to send a letter of support to ICE on behalf of the sheriff’s application.
Delegates from Barnstable, Bourne, Mashpee, Sandwich and Yarmouth voted against the resolution Wednesday, and the delegate from Eastham was absent.
The delegates from Bourne, Mashpee and Sandwich who voted to oppose the resolution could not be reached for comment Thursday, January 4.
During the hearing, Barnstable County Sheriff James M. Cummings responded to questions from delegates about the recently approved partnership between his office and ICE.
“In Barnstable County, I put public safety first and foremost,” Sheriff Cummings said.
Those concerned about immigration enforcement should contact their congressional representatives, he said.
ICE notified the sheriff’s office last month that its application to participate in the ICE 287(g) program had been accepted.
As part of the program, ICE will provide officers of the sheriff’s office with training and authorization to identify, process and, when appropriate, to further detain immigration offenders already in their custody, the sheriff’s office said in a statement last month.
The approval authorizes the US Department of Homeland Security to deputize selected state and local law enforcement officers to enforce selected federal immigration law.
Barnstable County correctional officers will have direct access to search ICE databases to determine if prisoners being held at the county correctional facility, on or without bail, are in the country illegally and should be detained. If the prisoners are found to be undocumented, the county could begin an immigration hearing process, which could lead to deportation.
“They must be arrested before screening takes place,” the sheriff said during Wednesday’s hearing. “We’re not authorized or interested in patrolling your communities.”
Sheriff Cummings said in a statement last month that the 287(g) program’s purpose is to enhance public safety by identifying undocumented immigrants, lodging immigration detainees and initiating removal proceedings by issuing charging documents on potentially deportable criminal undocumented immigrants booked into the jail facility.
“The 287(g) program is all about identifying criminality, not nationality,” the sheriff said. “The 287(g) agreement we requested to be a part of operates under a jail enforcement model, which functions solely within the confines of our jail in Bourne.”
Under this model, an undocumented immigrant must first be arrested by local law enforcement on other criminal charges and brought to the facility before any 287(g) screening activity takes place, the sheriff said.
In a statement following the vote, the Cape Cod Coalition for Safe Communities said that although the resolution was defeated, it helped “stimulate public awareness and engagement on the issue.”
The coalition, an ad hoc association comprising citizens from across the Cape, convened last January to address the local impact of new policies and practices concerning immigration.
Mark Gabriele of Wellfleet, one of the coalition’s organizers, said that the group “will continue to stand up for the constitutional principles of due process and equal treatment, and support the Safe Communities Act which would prohibit and nullify 287(g) agreements statewide.”
Earlier this week, the coalition said in a separate release that it believes the 287(g) program “will be detrimental to Barnstable County and should be stopped, and highlights the need to pass the Massachusetts Safe Communities Act.”
“According to public statements, the sheriff intends to use the program only for those in his custody arraigned for a felony. And yet, according the standard Memorandum of Agreement form available on ICE’s website, there is no reference to any such limitation in use,” the statement said. “Instead, the wording reads ‘shall follow ICE’s civil immigration priorities.’ ”
These priorities, the coalition said, are set by President Donald J. Trump’s executive order (EO 13768) that “abolished the previous Priority Enforcement Program, reinstated the Secure Communities program and outlined a much broader set of immigration priorities.”
Under the terms of the “jail model” of 287(g) agreements, the coalition said immigration enforcement activities would be limited to correctional premises only.
“But you don’t have to be a convict to be impacted by a 287(g) program,” the statement said. “As we learned in engaging our communities in debate about safe community issues, there is no shortage of anti-immigrant animosity in Barnstable County. This program has been associated with increased crime against immigrants.”
The coalition called the 287(g) program “another tool to steer immigrants into deportation.”
“The local economy depends on the ability of business owners to find seasonal help,” the statement said. “The program may indeed function only within confines of the jail, but aren’t these collateral damages a significant concern to the community at large?”