Publisher's note: The author of this fine report, Dan Way, is a contributor to the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.
Critics Say N.C. sheriffs decry contraction of federal 287(g) program
RALEIGH North Carolina sheriffs worry that President Obama's proposed 2013 budget would defund an effective initiative to combat illegal immigration while expanding another program some critics blast as more like amnesty than enforcement.
"Any time there's an effort to take away an enforcement tool ... that's an issue of concern," said Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the North Carolina Sheriffs Association. He said sheriffs have not been provided details of the proposed cuts.
The 287(g) program trains and deputizes local law officers to assist in immigration enforcement. The Secure Communities program is a computerized fingerprint system operated exclusively by federal agents who decide which cases to process.
Obama's budget slashes 287(g) 25 percent, from $68.3 million to $51.3 million, with 24 positions eliminated. Jurisdictions using 287(g) task forces, which go into the field, and have low criminal identification and arrest numbers, would be defunded. The other model puts local 287(g) officers in jails to process arrestees.
The Obama budget would block future requests to establish 287(g) programs.
In North Carolina, Alamance, Cabarrus, Gaston, Henderson, Mecklenburg, and Wake counties have the jail enforcement model of 287(g).
Obama would reduce funding to Secure Communities from $189 million to $138.7 million, largely because the program is 89 percent complete nationwide. All 100 counties in North Carolina already have Secure Communities "due to some aggressive work on our part," Caldwell said.
"Obama is stopping almost all significant immigration enforcement in the country, but his minions say they are deporting more illegal immigrants than ever before," said William Gheen, president of the Raleigh-based Americans for Legal Immigration PAC.
"The Secure Communities program is, unfortunately, a form of amnesty," Gheen said.
"287(g) allows police to pretty much put into deportation proceedings any illegal immigrant that's under arrest for other crimes. The Secure Communities Program allows Homeland Security to do the screening, and they defer attention on a large host of crimes" such as ID theft, passing illegal checks or DWI, Gheen said.
"They're going to move some budgetary resources around" and there would be little real impact of Obama's shift in funding, said Marty Rosenbluth. He is executive director of the Durham-based North Carolina Immigrant Rights Project who has discussed the 287(g) program with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials at the invitation of the White House in 2010.
In North Carolina, "We haven't seen a huge difference in the people being picked up under 287(g) and the people being picked up under Secure Communities," Rosenbluth said. "They're mostly minor offenses."
But 287(g) has been especially problematic, he said. As an example, he said he recently represented three women put in deportation proceedings after they called 911 to report being battered by their spouses.
If it's a minor traffic violation or visa overstay case, it "doesn't make any sense to deport someone who's been here for 10 years," has U.S.-born children, a job, and has assimilated into the community, Rosenbluth said.
"If there's mistrust between local law enforcement and the local population, that leads to a lot of consequences," including fear of local law enforcement, which can hamper investigations, he said. For that reason, he said, local law enforcement should not be conducting federal immigration enforcement.
Sheriffs have enforced federal law "since the founding of the country," Caldwell said. They are empowered to enforce bank robberies, human trafficking, drug cases, violations of federal administrative law, and tax laws, he said.
The Obama administration cites lower costs of Secure Communities as another reason to favor it over 287(g). It costs on average $649 to arrest and $1,282 to remove an illegal immigrant under Secure Communities. Under a 287(g) task force, those costs are $13,332 to arrest and $19,941 for removal. The 287(g) jail model has the lowest costs, $515 and $801, respectively.
"I have no doubt if they could get away with eliminating the 287(g) program they would do it in a heartbeat," said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.
But the congressionally created and mandated program "has a lot of support in Congress," where alarm bells are sounding as alerts are going up from sheriffs nationwide about the budget reductions, she said.
Vaughan said U.S. Rep. David Price, D-4th District, ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, has put restrictions on ICE "to keep the focus narrowly" on enforcement of major crimes.
"I applaud your proposal to reduce the 287(g) program recognizing that Secure Communities will be implemented nationwide by the spring of 2013," Price told John Morton, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for ICE, at a March 8 subcommittee hearing.
At that hearing, Price recognized Morton's efforts at "withholding ICE enforcement action that will be based solely on minor traffic offenses, not including the U.S." and "ensuring the systematic exercise of prosecutorial direct discretion," according to a transcript provided by Price's office.
He pressed Morton for a "review of the treatment of minor traffic offenses" and the status of implementing "recommendations that the victims of domestic violence should not be subject to immigration enforcement actions."
Even the perception that enforcement is being conducted in those areas could raise "contagious concerns" in immigrant communities, Price said.
Vaughan rejects the argument against deporting people for minor violations.
"People don't get deported for minor offenses, they get deported for being here illegally, she said.
"In North Carolina and the entire country, there are only about 6 percent of cases of people who were identified under Secure Communities who are getting deported just because they are here illegally," Vaughan said.
The rest are deported for reasons such as committing a crime, a previous record, being a fugitive from immigration court, or re-entering the country illegally after a previous deportation, she said.
"In Mecklenburg County, 287(g) is by far the more effective program," said Julia Rush, director of communications in the Sheriff's Office. Since May 2006, 18,600 illegal immigrants from 75 countries were arrested and 11,500 of those were placed in removal proceedings under 287(g), she said. A few of those even were on international terror lists.
Everyone arrested undergoes a series of questions during processing, including country of birth and country of residence, Rush said. If the answer to either of those two questions is anything but the United States, the person is interviewed.
"You can build a pretty good history of that person" through 287(g), Rush said. "With Secure Communities, all you're doing is running fingerprints."
"Everyone we encounter has violated a law in the state of North Carolina," Rush said. "If you don't want to encounter the 287(g) program and don't want to break up your family and get deported, don't break the law."