Local News

Mecklenburg Program For Fighting Illegal Immigration Draws Attention

Posted May 24, 2006 11:20 a.m. EDT

— The immigration issue has taken center stage, and Charlotte has taken the lead in North Carolina.

Mecklenburg County has federally deputized officers in the jail to speed up the deportation process of illegal immigrants. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Deparment is the first North Carolina agency to help federal agents crack down on illegal immigration.

"This is going to be extremely effective (to prevent undocumented) immigrants charged with things like minor traffic offenses slip through the cracks," said Mecklenburg County Sgt. Quinn Stansell.

With the new system, anyone brought to county jail will be cross tested with an immigration database and an FBI wanted list. If there's a match, deputies will be able to start the deportation process immediately without waiting on federal agents.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said he sees Mecklenberg's program as a needed tool, but at a cost.

"The disadvantage I see is taking taxpayer dollars and doing federal work," said Harrison

Currently in Wake County, illegal immigrants are detained while the sheriff's office contacts agents of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, better known as ICE. The process can sometimes take days.

Because the federal court for illegal immigrants is in Atlanta, any undocumented person arrested in North Carolina will wait in local jails -- an increased burden for taxpayers.

Legal experts like immigration attorney Jack Pinnex say while the Mecklenberg program may help in the short term, the long-term solution for both sides will be to get a federal immigration court in North Carolina.

"The old adage that justice delayed is justice denied is absolutely true here," said Pinnex.

The state Highway Patrol was criticized Monday, after they allowed illegal immigrants to leave the scene of a crash on Interstate 40. The driver of the car involved in the wreck was finally caught and now faces deportation. Critics say something must be done to give troopers more authority when they come across undocumented immigrants.