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Graziano: Why I ended Charleston County sheriff’s participation in 287(g) program

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Many Friday evenings, when I was a master deputy on patrol in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods in Charleston County, I would receive reports of victims of violent crimes. Many times, they had just cashed their paychecks from working all week, and they had been pistol-whipped and robbed of their cash by local teenagers.

These victims often refused to cooperate with law enforcement, despite suffering serious injury, because they were undocumented. This didn’t make our community safer, because perpetrators of these crimes were still out in the community.

When I ran against 32-year incumbent Sheriff Al Cannon in 2020, I argued that programs such as the optional 287(g) partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement hampered the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office’s ability to protect the community.

A sheriff is sworn to protect and serve all county residents, not just American citizens. The 287(g) program injected fear and distrust of law enforcement in the immigrant community, meaning that even immigrants who were victims of crime or were witness to one wouldn’t reach out to help.

Since I won election in November, my first priority has been reestablishing trust within the immigrant community. On Jan. 5, my first full day in office, I rescinded our detention center’s agreement with ICE to participate in this program. I gathered supporters and members of the immigrant community to watch me sign the papers, and in front of the media, I apologized for my sheriff’s office’s complicity with racial profiling associated with 287(g). It is my belief that the program contradicts efforts to build sustainable relationships.

This program was also costing taxpayers money, even though it is often sold to sheriffs across the country as a moneymaker.

ICE was paying only a portion of actual costs to house undocumented, nonviolent immigrants in our detention facility, meaning Charleston County taxpayers were picking up the rest of the tab. In 2020, it cost Charleston County residents $4 million. ICE benefits from this program and refers to it as a “force multiplier” for its targeted enforcement policies. As an agency that is focused on racial equity, we can better serve residents by reallocating those funds and providing fair policing practices.

While there has been some pushback from the old guard, I am moving forward with our plans to unite the Latinx community and be more inclusive. In my 33 years in law enforcement, and often as the only woman in the room, I am accustomed to making tough decisions. This was an easy one.

Since Jan. 5, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office has been doing the work in our local immigrant community, reestablishing the trust that we need to solve and prevent crime.

It has even attracted new, bilingual recruits to our agency. We are taking the necessary steps to make our force more reflective of the community we serve.

Rescinding 287(g) agreements is a positive step forward for sheriff’s offices across the country. When we make an effort to bring the communities together, instead of tearing them apart, law enforcement agencies become stronger. I want people in the immigrant community to have my back; they know now that I have theirs.

Kristin Graziano is the sheriff of Charleston County.

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