A dog-walking companion recently told me she may be changing her mind about an issue that’s been in the local news lately. Specifically, she’s beginning to question our sheriff’s participation with ICE in the 287(g) program. Because “maybe it’s doing more harm than good.”
An article in the Aug. 5 issue seemed to suggest that our county executive and council might be having a similar change of mind and heart. They now seem at least tentatively committed to an independent audit of the sheriff’s office’s participation in the program, and to belatedly holding the annual public meeting that the sheriff avoided by quietly re-upping with ICE for another year. Given political realities, only time will tell how truly independent and open the audit and hearing will be. But I’m cautiously choosing to believe these are genuine, hopeful first steps toward requiring the transparency and accountability that have been lacking since the current sheriff took office more than 12 years ago.
I realize this may be wishful thinking by those of us who consider the sheriff/ICE partnership a terrible mistake. But I’m hopeful it’s more than that. As a colleague said recently, “I think it’s an awareness problem. If more people were aware of the program’s real impacts — as opposed to the unsubstantiated claims about it — I don’t think they’d want it to go on.”
I’m also reminded of the words of some residents of a conservative Tennessee community in a recent radio interview, after they witnessed the grief and helplessness of children who had lost family members in an ICE raid at a workplace earlier that day: “When I heard ‘crackdown on illegal immigration,’ I interpreted it as a crackdown on ... real criminals. ... I don’t think anybody ever really stopped to think that they were going to go after the family man working at the meatpacking plant. That’s not what I had in mind.” And “A lot of people ... after the raid felt stunned. ... There’s over 100 churches in the area. ‘Love thy neighbor.’ People here take that seriously.”
As confusion, misunderstanding, and passion about the issue increase, I believe what’s needed is greater awareness, willingness to look beneath the surface and the usual sound bites, and determination to honestly and thoughtfully confront a serious challenge to the quality of life, the conscience, and yes, the image of our entire community.