Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway signed a memorandum of agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement Wednesday to continue with the 287(g) program that allows undocumented residents who are arrested in the county to be deported.

The announcement was made in a Facebook post hours after Conway signed the agreement, which stated the “287(g) program is an important law enforcement tool that helps protect everyone in our community.”

The extension of the agreement comes after Conway announced in late January he would not seek re-election. While the Gwinnett County Commission has, in the past, voted on renewing participation in 287(g) as a formality, Conway opted to forgo that route last year and began renewing it himself.

”There is no expiration date on the current memorandum of agreement,” Shannon Volkodav, a spokesperson for the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office, said Thursday.

At a press conference about not seeking re-election, Conway endorsed Chief Deputy Lou Solis for sheriff, saying he believed Solis would continue the county’s use of 287(g). Solis officially qualified to run for sheriff in early March.

Solis is one of two Republicans running for sheriff, along with four Democrats who have talked about ending the office’s participation in the 287(g) program.

“Sheriff Conway has consistently renewed the 287(g) agreement because the program has worked consistently for 10 years,” Solis said Thursday. “A 2009 study of our jail reflected slightly more than 600 illegal immigrants in our jail, each charged with committing a crime in Gwinnett County.”

Volkodav said the office’s operating budget allots approximately $2 million to the 287(g) program each year, which covers the salaries and employee benefits of the deputies assigned to the 287(g) unit.

The fully staffed 287(g) unit is made up of 18 deputies, Volkodav said. But that number can fluctuate slightly due to transfers and training.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the jail population in the county began declining and has remained reduced since the program began, because “it helps make Gwinnett an unattractive community to conduct criminal activity for those who are in the country illegally.”

In 2010, the daily jail population in Gwinnett was 2,654, compared to 2,097 in 2019.

“Saving taxpayers the cost of housing inmates is great, but the value to public safety is priceless,” Solis said. “This program only screens foreign born arrestees who are charged with committing crimes in Gwinnett County. Anyone who would end this program is choosing to protect criminals over the people who live and work in our community.”

In the Facebook post about extending the program, the Sheriff’s Office said the lower jail population translates to taxpayer savings since it currently costs approximately $63.25 per day to house an inmate in the Gwinnett County jail.

However, it’s unknown how much 287(g) has saved the jail. Volkodov said there’s no way to quantify the savings that result from the program, but “any logical thinker can understand that a program that helps keep our jail population lower saves taxpayers money.”

Each detainee that’s placed on hold for ICE can be held in jail for up to 48 hours once they are eligible for release after satisfying their local charges, Volkodav said.

“While we are not reimbursed for the short period of time we’re permitted to hold someone on a detainer, ICE picks up detainees at our jail almost daily, so the cost to feed detainees a few extra meals is nominal,” she said. “The real savings to the county is a jail population that’s been reduced by over 550 inmates since the 287(g) program began in 2010.”

“The business of law enforcement always comes at a cost. It’s not a profitable business. The return is increased safety in our communities so that fewer residents are victimized by criminals. One cannot place a monetary value on sparing someone the trauma of being raped or having a loved one murdered.”

Other than Gwinnett, only a few other counties in the state use the 287(g) program, including Cobb, Hall, Whitfield, Bartow and Floyd.

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