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New Cape Cod Sheriff Will “Rip Up” Agreement to Assist ICE in Immigration Enforcement

by Jo Ellen Nott

Come January 2023, Massachusetts’ Barnstable County Jail (BCJ) will no longer participate in the federal immigration enforcement program. The move comes over 15 years after outgoing Sheriff James Cummings (R) inked a June 2007 memorandum of agreement with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) to perform “certain immigration enforcement functions.”

What were those functions? Quizzing arrestees about their immigration status, for starters. Then, if there was a question about that, deputies contacted ICE and assisted in enforcement of any violation action that followed, including deportation. Cummings for years also published demographic information about individuals BCJ referred to ICE – more than 300 people since 2018. Most were Black Jamaicans, though the largest minority group in the county on Cape Cod is Brazilian.

Barnstable was the last county in all New England to have a contract with ICE’s 287(g) program, which pays for up to 10 law enforcement officers to be deputized as ICE agents but doesn’t cover all associated costs. As a result, just 130 sheriff’s offices out of more than 3,000 in the U.S. have a 287(g) agreement. Of those 130 sheriffs, 39 were up for re-election in November 2022, and 34 of them had backed former Pres. Donald J. Trump (R) in the 2020 election.

But not Barnstable.

It has become solidly Democratic territory. Now GOP Sheriff Cummings is retiring after 24 years. On November 8, 2022, Attorney Donna Buckley (D) defeated her opponent, Republican state lawmaker Tim Whelan. Buckley promised she would rip up the 287(g) agreement on the first day of her term as the sheriff. The new sheriff-elect won the race with 59,034 votes to her challenger’s 55,151 votes. Buckley is also the first woman elected sheriff in Barnstable County and only the second woman elected sheriff in the commonwealth. 

Buckley was legal counsel for former sheriff Cummings for the last four years. She said her decision to run for his job was made in the spring of 2022, after she decided that Whelan – who was then running unopposed – did not have the chops to reform an office she knew failed to prepare incarcerated people for success after release.

The 287(g) program, she said, “has nothing to do with correction, rehabilitation and treatment of people who are sent to the custody of the sheriff, and it needs to go.”

“The sheriff’s office should not be doing ICE’s job,” Buckley said. “The sheriff’s office should be focusing on all of the people who come out (of jail) and make sure they do not commit more crimes, that they do not have more victims, that they don’t overdose and die, that they don’t put our police at risk.”

Sources:  Bolts Magazine, Cape Cod Times

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