Local News

Chatham board reverses immigration policy

Posted June 6, 2011 4:31 p.m. EDT
Updated June 7, 2011 10:32 a.m. EDT

— Two years after Chatham County officials decided not to participate in a federal program to identify illegal immigrants charged with crimes, the county on Monday reversed that stance.

The county Board of Commissioners voted in January 2009 to discourage local law enforcement agencies from taking part in the federal 287(g) program administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Under the program, ICE agents give law enforcement agencies access to federal immigration databases so they can identify illegal immigrants arrested on local charges. ICE also trains officers how to initiate deportation cases against those people.

Brian Bock, the new chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said the 2009 resolution sent a message that laws wouldn't be enforced in the county. The sheriff should decide how to best enforce the law, he said, and those decisions shouldn't be limited by elected officials.

"It has nothing to do with legal immigration. It's (that) we want our laws enforced in all areas, and that would include areas of illegal immigration," Bock said.

The board voted 4-1 to scrap the resolution.

The previous Board of Commissioners members defended the resolution at the time by saying the county shouldn't enforce federal laws and noting that the program would have required them to build a new county jail.

Some of the commissioners received threats after the 2009 vote, and activist groups said not participating in 287(g) would turn the county into a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.

"This is part an anti-immigration agenda," said Ilana Dubester, a former member of the county Human Relations Commission, which pushed for commissioners to take a stand against 287(g).

"We wanted to send a message to the community that it's safe to report crime," said Dubester, who has worked for years to build a relationship between Latino residents and law enforcement in Chatham County. "Do call police, yes, collaborate."

Latinos are the fastest-growing group in Chatham County, and about one-eighth of the county's population is Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Bock said rescinding the 2009 resolution isn't a push to bring 287(g) to Chatham County.

"287(g) is not practical in this county. We don't have the jail space. We don't have the budget for it," he said.