Local News

State law limited in cracking down on illegal immigrants

Posted December 28, 2007 6:58 p.m. EST
Updated November 12, 2008 2:53 p.m. EST

— A new state law designed to help North Carolina sheriffs identify illegal immigrants who pass through county jails will be effective only with federal cooperation, authorities said.

Under the law, which goes into effect next Tuesday, the names of suspected illegal immigrants charged with a felony or with drunken driving will be turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said he has sent suspect names to ICE in the past with no results.

"We're only notifying them and putting the ball in their court," Harrison said. "If that person makes bond, he's free to go. But at least ICE knows."

He estimated 10 to 15 percent of the more than 30,000 inmates who pass through the Wake County Jail each year are illegal immigrants.

"We've got to find out who these people are, and right now, we don't have that capability," he said.

Luciano Tellez, for example, was released from the jail two years ago after serving time for drunken driving. Despite his immigration status, he remained in the U.S. and was charged in March with two counts of involuntary manslaughter following a wreck in Angier that killed trucker Jerry "Duane" Braswell and his 9-year-old son, Jerry Jr.

Illegal immigration remains a federal jurisdiction issue, Harrison said, so the ultimate success of the law depends upon the actions taken by ICE agents.

A spokesman for ICE said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the state law. But he said the agency was committed to working with local law enforcement.

ICE plans to begin training deputies across North Carolina to enforce immigration law and use a federal database to check the fingerprints of jail inmates.

Wake County is hiring a dozen deputies to handle the program, which Harrison predicted would be more effective than the new state law.

"I hope this will be a start of finding out who we have in our jail that's wanted or maybe wanted somewhere else," he said.