287 (g) or The 2018 Cape and Islands Womens March

photographs by ben allsup

words by erica m. szuplat


“What’s two hundred eighty seven grams?” ben asked me just after I finished painting my sign to bring to the Women’s March in Hyannis.

I knew that many people would not understand the 287(g) inside a big red circle and slash.  But I decided that it was a striking image and figured it might lead to a conversation or prompt others to look up what it was all about.

For logistical and time reasons, I didn’t bring any signs to the Women’s March in DC a year ago. But the speakers and astonishing turnout were so powerful to be a part of that I continued to educate myself and take action throughout the year.

And at a large, boisterous rally in protest the day after the first Muslim travel ban in Boston, I did bring a sign.  It unexpectedly changed my entire experience. People asked to take their photos with my sign, and others approached to share stories of their own or their family’s immigrant, refugee backgrounds. My sign also depicted a flag that prompted a lot of questions, all from total strangers.

On the year anniversary of this presidency, I felt it was important to stay local. This administration’s despicable policies are being implemented at regional levels across the country.

One Cape Cod issue that is particularly urgent is the 287(g) agreement that the Barnstable County Sheriff’s department has made with ICE. These partnerships allow officers of the Sheriff’s dept. to become deputized with certain federal powers that allow them to search ICE databases, detain persons on immigration issues and begin deportation processes. Additionally, we as taxpayers shoulder much of the expense, literal and otherwise, as county officers do double duty carrying out the work of federal immigration officials.

This morning, I did get a lot of questions about my sign. I’m not typically well-spoken off the cuff and was uncomfortable at the (albeit unlikely) possibility that someone like a local reporter might ask me a question. Embarrassed at the potential of coming across as un-informed, I decided ahead of time on phrasing for a succinct answer. As it turned out, I was approached by approximately a dozen other marchers about what “287 grams” might refer to.

The shortest version of my reply was, “It’s the name of the Sheriff’s agreement with ICE.” Many people were familiar with the issue and gave a nod of recognition. Some offered critical words for the Sheriff himself. One person told me she had recently been to a meeting, in another regional county where the Sheriff has also partnered with ICE in a 287(g), at which he had attempted to quell citizen concerns about the many civil rights violation lawsuits his department has already faced. One person asked if Barnstable’s 287(g) was a done deal.

In those moments, I let people know that the Massachusetts Safe Communities Act would nullify any 287(g) agreements and also includes basic provisions for those facing immigration detention— individuals living, working and attending school in our communities— such as being informed they may have a lawyer present, in a language they understand.

There is not a lot of time to get this bill to a vote so I would encourage you to take the time to research the issue and call your State Reps to have them co-sponsor. Anyone arrested currently has their information sent to ICE through a previously existing partnership between local law enforcement and the FBI. There is no need for the Sheriff’s dept. to obtain and exercise the federal powers that are bestowed by a 287(g). The process for implementation of ICE database searches, detentions and deportations by deputized officers is unclear, ripe for abuse and creates a terrible atmosphere in our communities. And in the words of a law enforcement officer in the state of Washington, “It is not just. It is not just.”

I recommend always bringing a sign to a rally or a protest. It’s uplifting in and of itself to gather together with like-minded individuals and present a show of force for all you have been working for all year. But bringing awareness and making connections really can come from something as simple as carrying a sign.

After chatting to stop with friends and family we ran into along the march route, ben and I ended up at the very back of the march. I turned around and noticed the police escort. I’m not sure if any of the cars with flashing lights behind me were from the Sheriff’s office, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to hold my sign up high anyway.

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