Local News

Wake to Hire Deputies for Immigration Enforcement

Posted November 5, 2007 11:50 a.m. EST
Updated November 5, 2007 11:42 p.m. EST

— Wake County commissioners on Monday approved a plan to hire 12 deputies so the Sheriff's Office can more quickly identify illegal immigrants who have been charged with crimes.

Sheriff Donnie Harrison requested the additional manpower to carry out a partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The move will cost the county almost $540,000 a year for salaries, benefits and one vehicle, along with start-up costs of about $90,000.

Four other North Carolina counties have signed up for 287-G, an ICE program to train local officers to quickly identify inmates in county jails who are in the country illegally and to handle the paperwork needed to begin deportation proceedings.

"We're looking at the people that are committing crimes, and that's a very important key: They're committing crimes," Harrison said. "I need to know who's in our jails for safety reasons."

The federal government must give its approval before Wake County can officially join program 287-G.

Between 10 to 15 percent of the county's inmate population could be identified as illegal through the program, Harrison said. The City-County Bureau of Identification, which processes inmates for the Wake County Jail, estimated that 17 percent of the 34,000 people arrested in the county each year – almost 5,900 – are foreign born.

In Mecklenburg County, more than half of the foreign-born inmates in its jail were found to be in the U.S. illegally.

Under the proposed program, the 11 deputies and one lieutenant would interview the foreign-national inmates and run their photos and fingerprints through an ICE database to determine their immigration status. They also would prepare the documentation to place those found to be illegal immigrations in deportation proceedings after state charges against them have been resolved.

"Right now, when we process someone here in our jail, we're only going through the SBI, and then it branches off and goes to the FBI," Harrison said. "But if that person is illegal and undocumented in our country, we miss him."

Immigration activists expressed worries that if local law enforcement takes on federal immigration issues, it could create a divide between deputies and the immigrant population.

"What we're hearing from the public is that there is a deep sense of fear," Marisol Jimenez McGee, advocacy director of El Pueblo, said.

"Part of the community they need to protect and serve is going to go underground. They're going to be afraid to cooperate," Jack Pinnix, a Raleigh immigration attorney, said. "We want to know who's among us. We don't want a policy that will drive people further underground."

That divide could detrimentally impact public safety, McGee said.

"This impacts an entire community that will now be afraid of local law enforcement when they're victims of crime and when they're witnesses of crime,"she said. "That makes us all unsafe."

But Tony Gurley, chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, said the program only sorts out people already charged with crimes and doesn't go after immigrants on the streets.

"This is not hiring deputies to round up people and ask if they're here illegally," he said. "Sheriff Harrison has made (it) clear he has people in our jails who have committed crimes, and he doesn't know who they are."

Harrison pointed to two men he said would have been deported before committing serious crimes if local law enforcement had known about their immigration status.

Juan Gayton-Barbosa was captured by U.S. Marshals in June after being on the run for nearly three years avoiding attempted murder charges. Police said Gayton-Barbosa beat a Raleigh woman with a baseball bat, shot her twice in the stomach and left her for dead. The victim had given him a place to stay at her townhouse off Millbrook Road.

Luciano Tellez, 31, was charged in a hit-and-run in March that killed Jerry Braswell, of Clayton, and his 9-year-old son. Tellez spent time in the Wake County Jail for driving-while-impaired in 2005.

"It is a cost to the Wake County citizens for illegal immigrants to be here, particularly those who have committed crimes. The majority of the public wants that to be addressed," Commissioner Joe Bryan said.

Mecklenburg, Alamance, Gaston and Cabarrus counties already participate in the ICE program.