Local Politics

Chatham officials stay away from immigration policy forum

Posted February 26, 2009 10:10 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:13 p.m. EDT

— Chatham County commissioners did not attend a forum Thursday night on the county’s illegal immigration policy.

Commissioners have received threats following their recent decision not to take part in a federal program to identify illegal immigrants among those charged with other crimes.

Chatham Conservative Voice hosted Thursday night’s meeting at Captain John's Dockside Seafood Restaurant in Chapel Hill. The group opposes the board’s vote last month to pass on an opportunity to participate in the federal 287(g) program administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Commissioners said they thought it was costly and ineffective.

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

Heather Johnson, of Chatham Conservative Voice, said the group does not have a position on the federal program – just on the message the resolution sends.

“If you are an illegal alien and commit a crime in Chatham County, you can cycle through the system and commit more crime,” Johnson said.

Commissioners Chairman George Lucier has said the 287(g) program is a bad move.

“Why would the Board of Commissioners want to take on a program that is costly, ineffective (and) increases the probability for racial profiling?” Lucier said.

Several weeks ago, Lucier agreed to attend the forum to discuss the resolution. In recent days, he decided not to attend.

“It has been taken over by outside interests,” Lucier said.

Groups from outside the county who support stronger laws against illegal immigration sent out fliers urging people to attend the forum. Some of the fliers equated illegal aliens to terrorists.

Deputies are also investigating possible threats against commissioners. Lucier said that after the board’s decision, he started getting e-mails with messages like, "Sleep soundly while you can!"

Lucier said the sheriff advised him not to attend Thursday’s meeting. Lucier said the sheriff and the head of the county’s Democratic Party also were asked to attend, but both declined.

Johnson said the Chatham Conservative Voice group denounces any threatening activity. She said she asked the groups that sent the fliers not to attend the forum.

Those who attended Thursday’s forum identified themselves as Chatham County residents.