Last summer, at the end of the fiscal year, Barnstable County Sheriff James Cummings’s detention agreement with the Dept. of Homeland Security lapsed. He renewed it.
But this year, the contract bringing the county into DHS’s 287(g) program — which allows for selected officers to act as ICE agents — carried through June 30 without any effort on the sheriff’s part.
In fact, that agreement could now continue indefinitely because of changes made by the Trump administration in October 2020. Now, the 287(g) contracts end only if they are terminated by either the county or DHS.
Barnstable County’s 287(g) dates to 2017, when Cummings became one of just three Mass. sheriffs to enter into this type of agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), an arm of DHS. (The other counties with ICE agreements at the time were Bristol and Plymouth, though Bristol’s was terminated in May 2021 after allegations of mistreatment of detainees at the jail in Dartmouth.)
The contract enables local authorities to enforce federal immigration law by interviewing people about their immigration status, checking DHS databases, entering data into ICE’s database, making recommendations for detention, and detaining individuals so as to place them in ICE custody.
At the sheriff’s jail, the work of those deputized “is mostly key punches,” said Cummings in a phone interview on July 13. Four members of his staff have been trained by ICE, and their work involving the 287(g) “squeezes into their regular tour of duty,” he said.
The four deputies enter information into ICE’s database during normal workdays, he said — no overtime is required, he added. The county’s 287(g) is the so-called Jail Enforcement version of the program.
The effect of that deskwork, said Cummings, has to do with public safety. “I don’t want to be the one to release somebody from the correctional facility here,” he said, “and have them go back to Provincetown and kill somebody or commit a serious crime.”
The real effects of the program are unclear. Some say that 287(g) programs have not resulted in an increase in the number of deportations by ICE. “To my sadness, there were many, many deportations during the time of President Obama,” said Tom Ryan of Eastham, chair of the Migrant and Refugee Committee of the Cape Cod Council of Churches. “And there were many, many deportations during the time of President Trump.”
Ryan said he hasn’t observed an increase in deportations since the Barnstable County 287(g) was signed.
Nationwide statistics bear that out. Although 287(g) agreements still exist in 148 jurisdictions, only 6 percent of ICE arrests in fiscal 2018 came from 287(g) jails, according to the TRAC Immigration Report, a research initiative at Syracuse University.
That low number reflects the fact that a 287(g) doesn’t give ICE access to information it wouldn’t otherwise have, explained Amy Grunder, director of legislative affairs for the Mass. Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. When a person is arrested, Grunder said, the suspect’s fingerprints are entered in a database to which ICE and the FBI both have access. The 287(g) is, she said, “duplicating what the federal government already does.”
Sheriff Cummings reports the demographics of and charges against those his office refers to ICE each month. That information, posted on the sheriff’s website, shows Barnstable County’s 287(g) disproportionately affects Jamaican men, according to a recent analysis by the Cape Cod Coalition for Safe Communities, which advocates for immigrants’ rights.
The analysis, which was obtained by the Independent, shows that of 262 people the sheriff’s website listed as reported to ICE from January 2018 through May 2021, 117 were from Africa and the Caribbean; 79 from Mexico, Central America, and South America; 46 from Europe; 16 from Asia; and 3 from Canada.
The largest group of immigrants on Cape Cod is Brazilian — by a large margin, said Ryan, whose estimates of different groups’ populations here are based on his work with local churches. “It’s an open question” why Jamaicans are the most affected, said Ryan.
Cummings said the information about individuals posted on his site is mislabeled “Barnstable County Inmates Referred to ICE.” Instead, he said, what is posted there is information about any foreign-born person sent to his department by the courts, and it’s made public to demonstrate that the 287(g) creates only minimal work for his department.
The sheriff’s website states that, under the 287(g), the “following Barnstable County Correctional Facility inmates have been identified as likely residing in the United States without authorization and the BCSO has provided information on these individuals to ICE for further action.”
That’s not correct, said Cummings. “Just because they’re on that website doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re reported to ICE,” he said. “Some of those folks are actually citizens.”
With the former administration’s rule change, the future of Barnstable County’s 287(g) is dependent on Sheriff Cummings and ICE continuing to engage with each other — but not entirely so. The Mass. legislature could intervene. One bill on the docket for this session is the Safe Communities Act, which has been filed unsuccessfully in the past. This year, advocates are “cautiously optimistic,” said Grunder of the MIRA Coalition.
The bill, she said, would not change policing, but it would stop “those extra things” the sheriff’s officers are doing for ICE. This time, Grunder added, “It does seem that there’s openness to the bill on behalf of the legislature.”
Massachusetts is the only state in New England engaged in 287(g) contracts. One is between ICE and the Mass. Dept. of Corrections. Only four other departments of corrections in the country are engaged in 287(g)s: those in Florida, Georgia, Alaska, and Arizona.