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Mecklenburg Immigration Crackdown Nets Nearly 1,000 Illegals

Posted November 28, 2006

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— A pilot program to crack down on illegal immigrants who commit other crimes is working as intended in Mecklenburg County, according to statistics released by the county sheriff's office.

Since launching the program, called Section 287(g), with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mecklenburg County has identified nearly 2,000 suspected illegal immigrants, Sheriff Jim Pendergraph said Monday.

Nearly 1,000 of those have committed some type of crime that warrants a detainer for deportation, he said. Of those, 128 have already been deported.

Other identified illegal immigrants committed crimes that do not meet federal criteria for deportation. They have been given notice to appear for immigration court hearings in Atlanta.

With federal grant money, local sheriff's deputies are trained to work with immigration officers to verify citizenship and deportation processing for suspects -- duties once handled only by federal agents.

Pendergraph said he applied for the program after seeing the need to do something about the problem in his county.

"I saw on a daily basis people coming through my jail system and walking out the front door that I knew were illegal immigrants and had no way to positively identify them."

Mecklenburg County is the only one in the state to take part in the program. Alamance and Gaston counties have applied for federal grants and could be operating by next year.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said he is looking into the program, but is concerned about the potential burden it would have on his staff and the jail. Authorities in Durham County are also interested, but express the same concerns.

Training for Mecklenburg County deputies started in February, and deputies began implementing the program in May. Pendergraph said that prior to the program, he met with the immigrant and Latino communities about the program.

"I made it plain and clear: If you didn't want to be involved in the system, the easiest thing to do is just not get arrested," he said.

Latino advocacy groups, he said, have taken the program very well and have been very supportive.

"They don't want these illegal immigrants here committing crimes that basically are preying on them and our community any more than I do," he said.

Earlier this year, the state's illegal immigrant population topped the 500,000 mark, a 700 percent increase since 1990.

An Elon University poll released last week found 56 percent of North Carolinians feel illegal immigration is bad for the state. Only 18 percent feel the impact of illegal immigration is positive.
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