In May, news broke that a staff member of Yavapai County’s Camp Verde Detention Center had died of COVID-19. At least six more staff members were reported to have tested positive for COVID-19 and, as of June 29, over 700 people in Yavapai County have contracted the virus.

Meanwhile, in Pinal County, all three Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities have confirmed cases of COVID-19 with two of the largest nationwide outbreaks happening at the La Palma Correctional Center and Eloy Detention Center. On June 14, a CoreCivic guard at ICE’s Eloy Detention Center lost his life to COVID-19. Pinal County, as of June 29, now has 3,350 confirmed COVID cases, including Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb himself.

Though hundreds of miles separate these two Arizona counties, both Sheriffs’ departments voluntarily participate in the costly and controversial 287(g) program. Problematic even before the pandemic devastated Arizona, participation in 287(g) agreements now carries deadly consequences for people in jails, employees and people detained alike, as well as their surrounding communities.

Known by the section in the Immigration and Nationality Act, 287(g) agreements are entirely voluntary – sheriffs are not mandated by law to participate. The agreements between federal and local governments enlist local police officers and sheriffs’ deputies to carry out certain federal immigration enforcement activities, opening the floodgates to unconstitutional conduct. Notably, 287(g) agreements have long been considered legally problematic and have more recently been cited as a public health concernamidst the growing novel coronavirus pandemic. Indeed, an Arkansas Sheriff ended his county jail’s 287(g) agreement due to concerns of increased transmission of the virus given the frequent movement of individuals in and out of detention facilities.

Recently, such as in Prince William County, Virginia, other sheriffs have ended their 287(g) agreements because of its failure to protect communities, the serious financial burdens on localities, and multitude of civil rights violations. These same issues are now combined with the urgency of containing the spread of COVID-19 in Arizona.

However, it should not take a global pandemic for sheriffs to do the right thing. Though ending these agreements is a rational response to mitigating the nationwide COVID-19 outbreaks in local jails, and one step towards eliminating ICE from jails completely, 287(g) agreements also have a history of harming public safety and generating significant costs including legal liability for local governments.

With both Pinal and Yavapai County’s current 287(g) agreements set to expire on June 30, we sent letters to Sheriff Lamb and Sheriff Mascher urging them to not renew their agreements. Disappointingly, both counties are choosing to renew their agreements with no vote or public comment period.

Local officials should not get involved in the business of enforcing federal immigration law. The Trump administration has expanded immigration “enforcement priorities” so broadly that in effect “all undocumented immigrants have become targets—even if they have lived in the United States for many years, have U.S. born children, and have never had a run-in with law enforcement.”

287(g) agreements involve local law enforcement in deportation practices that increasingly target immigrants with deeply rooted lives in the United States—people who have built families, careers, businesses, and communities in our country over many years, sometimes decades. It is particularly unwise to divert local resources towards such costly federal immigration enforcement efforts during a time when many are experiencing financial difficulty and uncertainty. 

287(g) agreements do nothing to improve public safety or protect communities. As the novel coronavirus pandemic spreads across Arizona, it is imperative that officials in Yavapai and Pinal counties do their part to contain the spread of the virus and end their 287(g) agreements.