A North Carolina debate over the role of county sheriffs in immigration enforcement mirrors nationwide unease in the age of the Trump.
A North Carolina sheriff is standing firm by his office’s cooperation with U.S. immigration authorities.
According to the Gaston Gazette, the paper’s eponymous county will continue collaborating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Sheriff Alan Cloninger signed an agreement with the agency in 2007, allowing deputies to assume some powers of federal officers.
But the program is controversial and has been criticized as potentially unconstitutional.
Last month, notes the Gazette, two other North Carolina counties backed away from the 287(g) program. Under its purview, deputies are allowed to interrogate foreign-born detainees about their immigration status and input their fingerprints into federal databases.
If an inmate’s found to be in the country illegally, the sheriff’s office can hold them until ICE is ready to remand or deport them.
PEW Trusts notes that shift away from acting as an ICE proxy started in urban areas. Two of North Carolina’s largest cities—Charlotte and Raleigh—ended similar programs last year. Over ten-thousand local residents were consulted in door-to-door surveys that asked voters for their feelings on immigration and upcoming sheriff elections.
Canvassing purportedly gave an edge to Democratic candidates, who won big in both cities’ elections. Left-leaning sheriff candidates campaigned to end 287(g) while Republican contenders promised to leave it intact.
Newly-elected Sheriff Garry McFadden celebrated his recent victory by cutting a cake frosted with an anti-287(g) message adorning the top.
McFadden, whose Mecklenburg County includes Charlotte, said he’s received thousands of complaints since rescinding the program. Nevertheless, he maintains that keeping immigrants’ trust helps build safer communities.
“We need to build trust with a community that does not trust us,” McFadden said. “Imagine a robbery victim afraid to call the police or witnesses afraid to come forward. That’s what we were dealing with.”
Indeed, proponents of similar pushes and sanctuary city policies have long cited community safety as one reason to ease up on immigration enforcement. Advocates claim that a fear of arrest and deportation can bolster crime rates and embolden criminals, as migrants fear any interactions with police.
But North Carolina state Rep. George Cleveland (R-Jacksonville) told Stateline that, “with the cost of illegal immigrants to the state, not to mention the crimes committed by illegals, I would think a law enforcement officer would want to do all he could to rid the state of the problem, including participation in 287(g).”
Interestingly, local-level law enforcement enrollments in 287(g) has more than doubled since President Donald Trump took office nearly two years ago.
But, with more urban sheriffs shying away from ICE, overall 287(g) arrests and deportations have fallen.
“There seems to be an increasing split, where smaller counties are on board and bigger counties are not,” said Legal Resource Center attorney Lena Graber.
Gaston County’s Cloninger says there’s no question about his decision to keep 287(g) in place.
“We’ve never considered ending the program,” he said. “It’s a valuable tool to help ensure the public safety of the community. An overwhelming majority of folks who have talked to me about it support it, so we’re going to continue to keep that program.”