Graziano announced she would end the agreement with ICE Tuesday at an immigrant-owned restaurant on Meeting Street | Credit: Sam Spence

New Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano ended a voluntary agreement between federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday, a simple act she hopes is a first step to repair divisions between the local immigrant community and law enforcement.

It will also save the county about $4 million per year.

Under the agreement known as 287(g), put in place by former Sheriff Al Cannon, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office was empowered to screen and detain suspected illegal immigrants, even if they are not being held in relation to a crime, potentially opening the door to deportation once they are in the hands of federal agents.

“Our job, as deputies, is to serve and protect all residents of Charleston County and to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” Graziano said during a press conference Tuesday. “We’re not to be used as an extension of the federal government.”

Without 287(g) in place, ICE agents will need a federal arrest warrant to take a suspected illegal immigrant into custody.

Graziano was sworn in Monday as the first female sheriff to be elected in South Carolina history. Tuesday’s announcement, held in front of immigrant-owned El Pincho Taco downtown, made good on a campaign promise to dissolve the ICE deal.

Graziano was sworn in Monday | Credit: Draft South Media

Immigrant advocates say the agreement has struck fear in local communities, causing distrust that could lead to local residents not calling police in an emergency.

Local immigration attorney Nina Richards said her office gets questions about whether it’s safe to call the police even in situations involving violence.

“The 287(g) agreement blurs the line between local law enforcement and ICE, causing fear and terror to permeate in the immigrant communities as a result of these enforcement actions,” said Richards on Tuesday.

Nina Richards is a local immigration attorney | Credit: Sam Spence

Through the agreement with Charleston County Sheriff’s Office, the federal agency reimburses the county for a portion of the cost to house ICE detainees, but expenses on top of that have cost taxpayers more than $12 million since 2018.

Graziano said Tuesday’s move is just the first in a series of initiatives she hopes will repair relationships between nonwhite communities and law enforcement across Charleston County.

“We have a lot of work to do to repair bonds with our Black and Latinx brothers and sisters,” she said in a press release Monday. “And that will be a primary focus during my first 100 days.”