Local News

Deputies trained to target illegal immigrants

Posted June 13, 2008 1:14 p.m. EDT
Updated June 13, 2008 8:25 p.m. EDT

— Area law enforcement agencies turned up the heat on illegal immigrants Friday, when dozens of deputies completed training on identifying illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.

Eighteen Wake County deputies who work as detention officers at the county jail and 10 deputies from Cumberland County were among a class of 38 who graduated from an intensive four-week program to learn immigration and deportation law. The course was administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, under the so-called 287-G program.

Sheriffs have expressed frustration at not knowing whether someone charged with a crime was in the country illegally because they didn't have access to federal immigration databases. The uncertainty has led to several cases of an illegal immigrant being released from jail on one crime and subsequently committing a second crime.

"We have so many people that's coming into our country that we have no idea who they are," Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole pushed for several North Carolina counties to be added to the 287-G program last fall, and she attended Friday's graduation ceremony.

"These are people who have self-identified themselves because of their criminal behavior," Dole said.

ICE has trained more than 700 officers nationwide through the program. Eight North Carolina law enforcement agencies now have certified officers – the most of any state – including the Durham Police Department and sheriff's offices in Alamance, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Gaston, Henderson, Mecklenburg and Wake counties.

Wake County has hired 12 deputies to help carry out the 287-G program, at an annual cost of about $540,000, as well as $90,000 in start-up costs.

In addition to determining the immigration status of people charged with crimes, trained deputies will begin the process to deport those people determined to be in the U.S. illegally.

Latino advocacy groups have complained the 287-G program is too far reaching and aggressive toward immigrants.

"It's going to undermine the relationships that all of our local law enforcement have been working on for many years with the Latino community," said Irene Godinez, director of advocacy for El Pueblo.

The 287-G program amounts to profiling, Godinez said, citing statistics from counties that already participate in the program, where most deportations result from traffic offenses and misdemeanors, not violent crimes.

"We're getting rid of people that are contributing to North Carolina and not those tough, violent criminals," she said.

Authorities admit the program won't solve the illegal immigration problem, but will provide them with a new tool to better identify the people they arrest.

"We are not here to ridicule or disparage people of other nationalities or countries but to protect and serve all people equally," said Lt. Raymond Rivera of the Wake County Sheriff's Office.