New NC sheriffs end agreements with ICE

FILE PHOTO: ICE Officers take part in enforcement activities. | U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

RALEIGH — Two more newly elected sheriffs in North Carolina have announced an end to their counties’ agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker and Durham County Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead, both Democrats, announced their respective policy changes last week.

Baker joins Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, also a Democrat, in pulling out of agreements under the federal 287(g) program, which partners local law enforcement with federal immigration agencies under a formal memorandum of agreement. According to ICE, the program permits designated officers to perform immigration law enforcement functions, provided that the officers receive appropriate training and function under the supervision of ICE officers. ICE provides a four-week basic training program and a one-week refresher training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center ICE Academy in Charleston, S.C.

The cooperation agreements have led to thousands of deportations of illegal immigrants since 2006. Prior to the Wake and Mecklenburg withdrawals, N.C. had six county agreements in place. The remaining four, in Cabarrus, Gaston, Henderson and Nash counties, along with 72 agreements in other states are so-called “jail agreements” which allow ICE to make arrests at the county jail when suspects are already in custody.

McFadden held a signing ceremony for a letter he sent to ICE ending the Mecklenburg County agreement. The new sheriff cut a cake decorated with 287(g) to drive home the visual of ending the agreement. Sean Gallagher, ICE Atlanta Field Office director, said in an e-mail to the Charlotte Observer that the change in Mecklenburg “will inevitably result in additional collateral arrests instead of arrests at the jail where enforcement is safer for everyone involved.”

Durham County does not have a 287(g) agreement, but the new sheriff says his department will no longer honor ICE detainers, which are used to hold suspects up to an additional 48 hours. Detainers are placed on illegal immigrants who have been arrested on local criminal charges and for whom ICE has probable cause to believe are removable from the United States.

In Wake County, new sheriff Baker held a press conference announcing the termination of the 287(g) agreement and an end to ICE detain cooperation.

“We serve a lot of communities,” said Baker at his press conference. “We want to make it so that the Wake County Sheriff’s Office treats everybody the same and improves the quality of life for each person. It’s about humanity.”

Following the sheriff’s remarks, Rick Brown, senior legal counsel for the sheriff, detailed the process going forward.

“We do have a state statute that does require when an individual is arrested with a felony or DWI for the sheriff’s office to be satisfied of the citizenship and that is a duty that the state requires the sheriff cannot forsake that duty,” said Brown.

Under N.C. law, when a person is charged with a felony or DWI and put in jail, the jail must “attempt to determine if the prisoner is a legal resident of the United States.” However, the statute, 162-62, also says the provision cannot be used to deny bond or prevent a prisoner from being released who is otherwise eligible for release. Baker’s office says they will comply with existing ICE detainers for inmates currently in custody.

A 2011 bill filed in the N.C. Senate would have required all law enforcement officers who have illegal immigrants in custody to request a detainer requesting transfer of the illegal immigrant into federal custody. That bill, S.B. 604, was sponsored by Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Madison) and several now-retired Republican senators and titled the NC Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act. The bill did not advance in the Senate.