Local News

ICE answers Chatham critiques of immigrant-arrest program

Posted January 20, 2009 7:59 a.m. EST

— Prompted by criticisms from the Chatham County Board of Commissioners when it voted against participating in a federal-local program for apprehending illegal aliens, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Sunday offered its responses.

The commissioners recently voted against taking part in the program, saying that doing so could have negative consequences for the community. Chatham has a significant Latino population.

"These unintended consequences do, in fact, occur, especially when you don't have the wherewithal to properly enforce the laws – and we don't here in Chatham County,” said George Lucier, commissioners chairman.

Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes ICE, issued a statement to WRAL saying, "We at ICE feel that it is very important for your viewers to have both sides of the story."

“We fully support local law enforcement’s duty to uphold the law," Lucier said. "At the same time, we commend our law enforcement leaders for not participating in the optional ICE program, because it has helped us avoid some problems that other communities are facing.”

Among those problems, said Margie Ellison, who chairs the county’s Human Relations Commission, is that the "ICE detention process may separate family members, including abrupt separations of children from their parents."

"In carrying out our nation's laws, ICE officers and agents exercise discretion when cases involve sole caregivers. There have been many instances when ICE has placed a sole caregiver on an alternative to detention while their cases are in proceedings," Gonzalez said. "There are times, however, when ICE cannot place sole caregivers on alternatives to detention due to legal prohibitions. It is important for the public to remember that it is parents who place their children in difficult situations by knowingly breaking the law. Those who violate the law know that there are consequences for their actions."

A 2007 joint study released by the National Council of La Raza and The Urban Institute found that children suffer psychologically and economically when their parents are detained.

"All of those who are arrested by ICE for being illegally present in the country have full due process of law," Gonzalez said. She added that detainees get information about legal help they can have and are given handbooks that tell them their rights.

Other problems that the commissioners noted were violations of civil rights and liberties, distrust of law enforcement by  immigrants and racial profiling.

"Unless funds, training and appropriate authority are granted to local governments, it is really not our place to enforce the immigration laws,” Lucier said.

Gonzalez said ICE does not do racial profiling. It does targeted enforcement based on investigations and intelligence, she said.

The City of Durham, as well as Wake, Alamance, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Gaston, Henderson, Mecklenburg and Orange counties are taking part in the ICE program. ICE provides funding and training for those participants.