MARIETTA — Less than a month into his tenure in office, Cobb County Sheriff Craig Owens has fulfilled a major campaign promise by ending his office’s involvement in immigration enforcement.

Effective immediately, Owens announced at a press conference Tuesday morning, the sheriff’s office will no longer partner with U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) under the controversial program known as 287(g). The announcement was made before a packed audience of community members, many of whom held signs reading, “287 Gone / Thank you Craig Owens.”

Declaring “a new era in Cobb County,” Owens said the measure is part of his broader commitment to “truth, trust and transparency.” He was also adamant that by ending the program, the sheriff’s office and Cobb’s various police departments will be able to do their work more, not less, effectively.

“Us ending this program does not mean Cobb County is a free for all,” Owens said. “I can almost guarantee you that police chiefs will continue to do the excellent work that they do around Cobb County.”

Immigration enforcement reform was one of Owens’ top priorities coming into office, and distinguished him from his opponent Neil Warren, a Republican incumbent who had held office since 2003. Owens became the second metro area sheriff to end involvement with 287(g) this month, after newly elected Gwinnett Sheriff Keybo Taylor.

The 287(g) program was first implemented in Cobb in 2007, as Warren claimed to be the first sheriff in Georgia to work with ICE. Under Warren’s command, the sheriff’s office would check with other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies (including ICE) after arresting an individual to determine if they were “wanted.” In the case of ICE, the sheriff’s office turned individuals over to ICE custody after their local charges were cleared.

Warren touted the program as a success, saying in an interview with the MDJ last year that cooperation with ICE resulted in a 50% decrease in foreign nationals entering the county jail. Between 2008 and 2018, the Cobb Sheriff’s Office transferred nearly 12,000 people to ICE custody.

At the announcement, Owens was flanked by his newly selected command staff, and invited a number of community leaders and public officials to speak. Among them were Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid, who called Owens’ decision “bold, necessary, and overdue,” and Cobb’s new District Attorney, Flynn Broady.

“This is the day after Martin Luther King Day, and Martin Luther King said, ‘It’s always the right time to do the right thing.’ So I think you’re doing the right thing, Sheriff Owens,” Broady said.

“This is going to make our community safer … so continue to support us. Continue to know that everything we’re doing is working for the best interest of our entire community.”

Other speakers included Ben Williams, president of Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Cobb chapter; Javier Diaz de Leon, consul general of Mexico; and Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, all of whom praised Owens for ending the program. Owens also introduced a new community liaison, Carlos Garcia, formerly executive director of the Pro-Immigrant Alliance.

“You have fulfilled that campaign promise – the promise of a new Cobb County,” said Garcia, who endorsed Owens during his election campaign last year. “There were so many nights … my phone would not stop ringing. Those families being separated, children being separated from their parents.

“Today is a new day. And the most important word today is, thank you.”

After the event, Viridiana Fuentes and Jorge Bello called the announcement a “huge success for organizing.” They’re both activists with the progressive group “La Gente de Cobb” (The People of Cobb), and said that while ending the sheriff’s involvement with immigration enforcement was a victory, it would take time to earn the respect of Cobb’s immigrant community.

“I grew up in Douglas County … and a majority of my family worked in the Cobb area,” said Bello, who now lives in Atlanta. “Every time they would come through here — I know personally, myself, I felt discriminated against (and) pulled over more often than anywhere else.”

“I went through a situation where I didn’t want to call the cops when I was ten, because I was afraid they were going to take our parents away,” Fuentes said. She was raised in Cobb, and still lives in the county.

“We have so many things to do, because that whole building trust is going to take a long time.”

Owens acknowledged as much in his own remarks, recalling times when major crime investigations were hindered because immigrant residents were unwilling to approach the sheriff’s office, and cited that erosion of trust as a major reason for pulling out of the program.

“They had a saying when I was in Precinct 2. If you see brown,” Owens said, referring to the sheriff’s uniforms, “you run. If you see blue, you stay and talk.”

Bello said he will continue to advocate for concerns he has about law enforcement in immigrant communities, such as ensuring individuals detained since Owens took office, but before the program’s official termination, don’t end up in custody of immigration officials. Owens said during the press conference that he would look into the matter, and more information would be forthcoming.

But as the event ended, and a mariachi band began to play, the mood in the room was decidedly celebratory. The new sheriff even took to the floor and waltzed for a moment, reveling in his audience’s approval.

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(22) comments

Rich the Equalizer Pellegrino

Bravo!!! Mucho gracias! We worked for this for years!

Donald Edwards

May you be the first to be mugged by an illegal immigrant. Just what we need more lawbreakers roaming the streets.

Mike Nelson

I didn’t know activists actually had a real job.

Michael Harris

[censored][censored][censored]

Mike Nelson

Congrats Cobb voters when you have any crimes with an illegal immigrant you can now count on the sheriff department not to work to help you. This is just the beginning for the crime in Cobb. We are experiencing it in massive crime wave in Atlanta with that well run democratic city.

Tory Hargro

You do know that with few exceptions, immigrants are less crime prone than natives or have no effect on crime rates. The research is fairly clear. Try Google. It works wonders.

Allie Bradford

Interesting that you ignore the glaring fact that the illegal community does NOT report much if not most of the crime within their own community.

Rich the Equalizer Pellegrino

Sorry Allie....this has been studied by non-partisan research organizations and they unequivocally found that where there are no 287/ICE agreements and trust in the police, then way more crimes are reported, and that the communities with the largest populations of undocumented immigrants have the lowest crime rates. But nice try in trying to overturn facts. (The era of misinformation and lies masquerading as facts ended Jan. 20th.)

Howard Peterson

Tory. Google only sends you where they want you to go!! Censorship is alive & well @ Google. It's a shame you haven't figured that out before making your comment!!

George Don Spruill

“With few exceptions?” How about no exceptions? If they’re here illegally, the law says they’re prosecuted. What kind of sheriff refuses to enforce the law? Oh, yeah. Sheriff Craig Owens, D-Cobb County, GA.

Rich the Equalizer Pellegrino

Again, misinformation---Sheriff Owens has never said he will not enforce the law---just as Cobb Police have never said the same---however they both are not responsible to enforce federal law. That is up to the feds--not local law enforcement---who shouldn't care less about anyone's immigration status---and don't. The 287G program that was scrapped forces local law enforcement to use its meager resources to enforce federal law, which actually ends up jeopardizing public safety in many ways---all studies prove. So get your facts straight.

Rich the Equalizer Pellegrino

Exactly! Thanks for the facts rather than the baseless accusations by those who always need a boogeyman to justify hate.

Donald Edwards

Well said. Less than 30 days in office and we are already less safe.

George Sandru

Now we know who will be directly responsible for any crimes committed in Cobb by any illegals. Our bold Sheriff and Rich "the equalizer". "Much grass" back at you.

Howard Peterson

A mariachi band??? Are you kidding me??? Can't wait for all the help the Cobb citizens will get from Carlos Garcia.....And they say the Trump supporting domestic terrorists need to de-programmed......???

George Don Spruill

Typical Democrat. People may die because this sheriff refuses to enforce the law. What’s next? Letting criminals out of jail without bonds? I put nothing past a Democrat.

Howard Peterson

When Nancy P. & Chuck S are co-Presidents of the US, all Democrats must "go along to get along"! Just ask Sheriff Owens & Joe Biden if you don't believe me. Biden is no more a "moderate" than I am a Democrat! The "pied pipers" of the House & Senate will soon be calling in their quest to wreck this country in the next 2 years. If I were an alien, I would be coming here too! Where else could I get better treatment than the citizens of the country that I am invading?

Byron Anderson

It’s a great day to be an illegal criminal!

Rich the Equalizer Pellegrino

It is hilarious that the few chronic fear mongers and haters come out of the woodwork whenever people try to do the right thing and treat human beings as human beings and not criminals. (Every one of their ancestors were likely "illegal immigrants" or worse, and they curse them with their hate and fear mongering.)

Laura Armstrong

These democrats say it will actually HELP them and help make our community safer, yet they never offer an explanation of HOW. It's just propaganda over and over and over. And if you disagree with Rich "the equalizer" (hahaha) you're called a racist, even when you are a "person of color." The county is about to see a huge rise in crime committed by illegal aliens who know they have nothing to fear from "authorities" here. I hope the gangs overcome the limosine liberals in east Cobb and they can't even go to the store without their cars being jacked, which is what's happening a couple miles down the road here in Buckhead. We will all know who to thank when that happens: Lisa Cupid and the new sheriff and district attorney. Welcome to the new Cobb County.

Howard Peterson

Sheriff Owens doesn't have any time to mess around with illegal aliens. He's after all of us white supremacists, domestic terrorist racists that have held Cobb County hostage for all these years. But Biden & his so-called government will let Antifa & BLM rule WHEREVER they are! Watch it happen! It's happening right now on the "left coast"!

Buck Turgidson

Emoticons

Cobb Commission Chairperson, DA, Sheriff all brag they will either only selectively enforce the laws or else not enforce them at all. The safety of law abiding taxpayers apparently does not figure in to their plan. I discussed this with my family and we decided that after nearly 4 decades it's time to leave Cobb.

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