Despite opposition from several local advocacy organizations and a handful political hopefuls, including a 2020 candidate for sheriff, longtime Gwinnett Sheriff Butch Conway "fully intends" to renew the jail's 287(g) program when its current term expires in June.

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway has officially renewed the Gwinnett County Jail’s 287(g) program — though only for a year.

On Tuesday, the sheriff announced the renewal, which came as a surprise to some. While Conway had previously said he was going to renew his cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement when the program’s current, three-year term expired in June, the Tuesday announcement was not anticipated.

“The 287(g) program is an effective tool that helps reduce crime and save money,” Conway said Tuesday. “I see the continued benefits of having this program in our county and will continue to support it as long as I’m in office.”

The program, which the longtime sheriff first brought to the county in November 2009, is a partnership between state or local law enforcement and ICE that allows local jurisdictions to receive delegated authority for immigration enforcement.

A contentious topic in recent weeks, opponents of the program say it divides communities and instills a sense of fear in immigrants.

“I don’t believe that the sheriff should renew it,” Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, or GALEO, told the Daily Post earlier this month. “It’s been a process that has been abused by the Sheriff and I think it overall has hurt Gwinnett County more than it has helped Gwinnett County because (the) bottom line is, it’s diminished public trust with law enforcement.”

But the sheriff’s office has long touted the cooperation, saying it saves taxpayers money, helps reduce the jail population and promotes public safety.

“Our 287(g) deputies are not out in the street, they’re not looking for anyone who may be in the country illegally — that is just not their responsibility,” said Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Shannon Volkodav. “That is the responsibility of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal government. Our job here is to address people who are breaking the law, and through the 287(g) program, those very people, when they are brought into the jail on any charge, whether it’s a traffic-related charge or a murder charge, if they’re foreign-born, our deputies are going to screen them, and if it appears they’re in the country illegally, a hold is placed on them and they are turned over to ICE custody once they’ve satisfied their local charges ... instead of being released back into our community. The result is fewer people who pose a threat to public safety in our community.”

Naysayers argue the program deters crime victims from calling police because of fear that they’ll be deported — something the sheriff’s office says is a result of misinformation.

“The authority of our specially trained 287(g) deputies to screen for immigration status exists only within the walls of the Gwinnett County Jail,” Volkodav said. “They are not out in the community looking for anyone who is here illegally, and there is no law enforcement officer in Gwinnett County that can question someone about their legal status (outside of jail walls).

“There is absolutely no reason for any person in Gwinnett County who is here illegally to fear calling any law enforcement agency when they are the victim of a crime or when they are witness to a crime. There is absolutely no possibility of them being deported for that.”

As part of Tuesday’s announcement, the sheriff’s office said the program was only renewed for one year because the new — and presumably longer-term — memorandum of agreement is “undergoing revision.”

In the meantime, ICE offered Conway “the option to extend our current MOA until June 30, 2020.”

“Sheriff Conway approved the extension and the paperwork has been signed and returned to the federal government as instructed,” Volkodav said.

The sheriff did not need the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners approval to renew the agreement.

Crime Reporter

Isabel is a crime and health reporter for the Gwinnett Daily Post. She graduated from Emory University in 2016 with a B.A. in international studies. She is originally from the Boston area.