Local News

Chatham County staying out of ICE enforcement program

Posted January 12, 2009 11:22 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— The Chatham County Board of Commissioners officially opposes having local governments contract to help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforce immigration laws.

Their concern: participation in ICE could have negative consequences for the community.

"These unintended consequences do in fact occur, especially when you don't have the wherewithal to properly enforce the laws – and we don't here in Chatham County,” said George Lucier, commissioners chairman. The board recently voted to stay out of the program.

“We fully support local law enforcement’s duty to uphold the law," Lucier said. "At the same time, we commend our law enforcement leaders for not participating in the optional ICE program, because it has helped us avoid some problems that other communities are facing.”

Among those problems, said Margie Ellison, who chairs the county’s Human Relations Commission, is that the "ICE detention process may separate family members, including abrupt separations of children from their parents."

A 2007 joint study released by the National Council of La Raza and The Urban Institute found that children suffer psychologically and economically when their parents are detained.

Other problems that the commissioners noted were violations of civil rights and liberties, distrust of law enforcement by  immigrants and racial profiling.

"Unless funds, training and appropriate authority are granted to local governments, it is really not our place to enforce the immigration laws,” Lucier said.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Barbara Gonzalez said ICE does not do racial profiling. It does targeted enforcement based on investigations and intelligence, she said.

Gonzalez also noted that the department respects Chatham County's decision and that the county is well within its rights to make the decision. However, some county residents with whom WRAL News spoke Monday evening disagreed.

"I don't see that, because they are our laws. If it's the law of the United States, or of the state, than it is their law,” Chatham County resident Stuart Sorrow said.

"I think all local governments have a responsibility to follow the lead of the federal government,” Chatham County resident Fred Gamin said.

The City of Durham, as well as Wake, Alamance, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Gaston, Henderson and Mecklenburg counties are taking part in the ICE program. ICE provides funding and training for those participants.

Working under the supervision of ICE, sheriffs' officials identified more than 3,000 illegal immigrants during an eight-month period last year. According to the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association, 44 percent of those identified had been charged with serious crimes, including murder, assault and domestic violence.