My meeting with Washington County Sheriff Tim Helder about 287 (g)
Article might be updated if I remember any more details about the meeting. I also added only minimal commentary for sake of continuing the conversation. Make your own assumptions and thoughts.
What is 287 (g)?
Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security to deputize selected state and local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law
Last year in December during the annual 287 (g) meeting with the Washington County Sheriff, I wasn’t planning to speak. I ended up on the speaking list as a place holder incase someone who was directly affected wanted to speak, I would yield them my time. I saw the list right before the meeting began and many people hadn’t signed up so it looked like I would be speaking. I had nothing prepared but only the anger in my heart after speaking to ICE officials 30 minutes before the meeting and hearing them make excuses for separating families.
I’ve always been frustrated and angry with Sheriff Tim Helder’s decision to renew 287 (g) every year. It made me upset that he never responded to any of my emails or calls to have a meeting and discuss this program which my community truly believes is a racist program. It was annoying to see on my social media to see that he met with many of my white friends and they would tell me that he responded to their emails, texts and calls. I walked to the mic to speak for my turn and I let all my frustrations out. I publicly asked the Sheriff why my messages were ignored and why he met with other people and not me. He said if I called his office, an appointment would be set up. I asked if he would meet with our group Equipo de Defensa al Inmigrante, but he said no because he wasn’t a fan of “group mentality.” You can interpret that how you want to. I knew I had to follow up and schedule an appointment so I did. I scheduled an appointment to meet with Helder on Tuesday January 21st 2020.
I normally don’t write articles about conversations I have. After the public meeting about 287 (g,) I felt compelled to post on my social media that I had followed up and was scheduled to meet with the Sheriff. What this caused was dozens of people reaching out wanting to know how the meeting went and I felt it was necessary to let the people know since this program affects them too. During the meeting Tuesday I did tell Sheriff Helder that I would be reporting back to the community. He was surprised I wasn’t recording and even told me that I should’ve been. Maybe he was recording me I thought. Either way I feel it’s important to share with you the details of the meeting that matter.
After speaking about the Bail Project for a few minutes I shifted the conversation to talk about what we were here for. I said that I was aware that at the annual meeting he was trying to to explain to the public his history with the 287 (g) program and that he didn’t get a chance to, so I wanted to hear his side. He gave me a brief history of his time in law enforcement and explained that in the early 2000s is when he started considering 287(.g) He explained that he had 3 options of federal programs to implement. Helder said he is not a fan of officers asking people for documentation during traffic stops and sees the program Washington County currently has as the best fit and less aggressive. He explained that when someone goes to the Wash Co Jail, they get asked what country they originate from. If they come from a different country, they get evaluated for their immigration status. ICE gets alerted and they place a hold on people who are Undocumented if they choose to. According to Helder, it’s all at ICE’s discretion. Helder noted that contrary to what people believe, he does not act like ICE. He said that when someone pays bail for someone who has an ICE hold, ICE has 48 hours to come pick them up or they are released. He stated that the program has been very effective. I let him know that Undocumented people who are survivors of sexual abuse or abuse in general do not report the crime committed to them because of fear of being arrested and deported because of the program. He asked me if they are aware that they can call the police to report any crime and their immigration status will not be questioned. I reminded him that our community can not trust the police with good faith because of programs like 287 (g) being active to begin with. Helder brought up that if he ended the program and ICE starting doing more raids, that the community would then ask him to end all collaboration with ICE. Insinuating that the community would never be satisfied with his actions. I told him that it’s a shame that this program ended up sending our friend Alan to the Louisiana Detention Center. I continued by telling him that it was wrong that his charges were dropped by the City of Fayetteville but because this program is still active here, once his charges were dropped by they city, he was transported to Louisiana. He replied by saying that unfortunately some folks do slip through the cracks with the 287 (g) process. I replied that while he may see this as a simple “slip through the cracks” we see things in a very different way. For us it’s personal. We know his mom. We interact with his brother. Our community feels and empathizes with the family’s pain while for him it’s just another process.
I asked Sheriff Helder why 287 (g) was in effect when the federal program Secure Communities was active already and was mandatory for all jurisdictions. He asked me to explain to him what Secure Communities was. I did briefly but he noted that he would have to look into it more. He asked me if I considered myself a person of rules or the opposite. I said “I guess you’re a man or rules right?” He smiled and said that his wife sometimes pokes at him for being a strict rule follower. I told him that I was somewhere in the middle and it depended on my morals. I continued by saying that we’ve had some “rules” or laws in this country that weren’t always morally right, like slavery. He looked surprised at my response and said those were really bad times in our country. I asked him if I could be really honest with him and he said “yes.” I let him know that in our immigrant community he’s seen as a wolf for continuing to renew this program that separates families. He look startled by what I had said. “You know there’s 5-6 year olds in my immigrant community that are already being raised to believe that you’re a bad guy.”
I brought up a person I know who is currently in his jail affected by 287(g.) He was aware of the person’s case. I told him she was in there on a few misdemeanors and a DWI. Helder noted this was this person’s second DWI and how this person could have hurt someone while driving intoxicated. I told him that I understood his frustration in that but couldn’t we try to get this person or people in this situation help with maybe mandatory treatment at an addiction center instead of possible deportation? He didn’t say anything against the idea and nodded. He made it clear that once someone has an ICE hold, there’s not much he can do. He noted that ICE does the heavy lifting by screening folks for past charges that they normally could not catch on their own. Helder noted that the jail does not finger print folks who have ICE holds and there is no ICE official in the jail who is stationed there. He noted that the jail doesn’t have the capacity to screen every case individually and that’s why it’s best to have this program active here. Looking at my notes I asked what the costs were associated with keeping 287 (g) folks in the jail. He noted that he doesn’t have exact numbers but he said that they get 3 meals a day and he uses the same staff he already has so he doesn’t have to do anything extra. I asked that if Benton County stopped renewing the 287 (g) agreement if he would consider ending the program here. He replied that he considers it every year when the program is up for renewal. Take that for what’s it’s worth.
I let the Sheriff know that as of three months ago, 287 (g) was active in only 78 counties across the entire country and that several counties have ended the program because they realized it was a bad program. I told him that I could provide data for him showing him that since the program ended in these counties there has not been an increase in crime or a bigger presence of ICE like he thinks there will be. I asked him if he was a data and facts guy. He replied that he isn’t but would review anything I provided to him. He asked if I could name three counties that had ended the program. I explained that at the moment I couldn't but I would provide that information the next time we meet. I took a moment to explain to him how surreal it was that we were finally talking about this issue. He said that it was important to have these kind of discussions and that there should never be any disrespect towards each other. I reminded him that we could’ve had this conversation awhile back if my attempts at contact had not gone ignored. He claimed that he never ignored my emails or calls and that he must’ve never seen or heard of them. He expressed his frustration about me calling him a racist in the media and told me that people screenshot my posts and send them to him. (I’m guessing someone will send this to him too.) I told him that I called the 287 (g) program racist publicly but I’ve never called him a racist publicly. I confirmed that I honestly believe the program is racist because part of the process is asking people where they come from. He also noted that he didn’t like how I had posted on social media saying something along the lines of “Here come the pigs!” when referring to his cops. I asked him if he could provide a screenshot of the post because I’ve never posted that. He didn’t have a screenshot or proof.
I told him that I would follow up with him soon with the data I suggested for him to review. He seemed ok with that and we said our goodbyes while I explained to him what a White Savior is. I will be collecting data with our Equipo group in the next few weeks to present to him. I will continue the conversation with Sheriff Helder. We will never agree with each other about this program and that’s obvious. I still view the program as racist and bad. 287 (g) is not necessary and it will continue to create a bigger divide between our communities and law enforcement. I ask anybody reading this to email, call or schedule a meeting with Helder to show him that you don’t support this program and want it to end. Our community will continue to organize against it and I ask that you show support any way you can. Follow Equipo de Defensa al Inmigrante on Facebook and Instagram for updates.
Thanks for reading.