Local Politics

Possible threats against Chatham officials investigated

Posted February 18, 2009 6:42 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Members of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners have received threats following their recent decision not to take part in a federal program to identify illegal immigrants charged with crimes.

The board voted last month to pass on an opportunity to participate in the federal 287(g) program administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying they thought it was costly and ineffective.

Under the 287(g) program, ICE agents give local law enforcement agencies access to federal immigration databases so they can identify illegal immigrants they have arrested on local charges. ICE also trains officers how to initiate deportation cases against those people.

Wake, Durham, Cumberland and Alamance counties already participate in the program, and Orange County recently joined a separate ICE program called Secure Communities that doesn't include the deportation portion of 287(g).

After the decision in Chatham County, commissioners Chairman George Lucier started getting e-mails with messages like "Sleep soundly while you can!"

"We are monitoring some incidents with the commissioners," said Maj. Gary Blankenship of the Chatham County Sheriff's Office. "So far, none that we have seen constitutes a threat, so we are just staying apprised of the situation."

Extra deputies were assigned to Monday night's commissioners meeting in case of problems, and Lucier said an evacuation plan was drawn up. There were no problems at the meeting.

Deputies also investigated something said to a county employee who answered one of many calls the county offices have gotten about the 287(g) decision.

"The person went on talking about how bad it was and so on and so forth and said, 'We'll just come in and take you all out,'" County Manager Charlie Horne said.

Horne said the number of upset callers increased after information about the county's decision was posted on the Web site of Americans for Legal Immigration. William Gheen, the organization's president, said he got involved because local resident can't.

"They are afraid to speak out. They are afraid of retaliation," Gheen said, adding that he plans to remain involved in the issue.

Horne said the issue is beginning to die down, but he said he isn't taking anything for granted.

"We are obviously cautious and vigilant about what is going on around us," he said. "It's a distraction on the things we need to do."