Local News

Chatham residents decry county's immigration stance

Posted January 27, 2009 7:50 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Some Chatham County residents want officials to reconsider a recent decision against taking part in a federal program to identify illegal immigrants charged with crimes.

The Board of Commissioners voted three weeks ago to pass on an opportunity to participate in the federal 287(g) program administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Under it, ICE agents give local law enforcement agencies access to federal immigration databases so they can identify illegal immigrants they have arrested on local charges. ICE trains officers how to initiate deportation cases against those people.

Wake, Cumberland and Alamance counties already participate in the program, and Orange County recently joined a separate ICE program called Secure Communities that doesn't include the deportation portion of 287(g).

"Chatham County will become a sanctuary county, and that is exactly what this resolution is telling illegal immigrants – 'Come to Chatham County because we are not going to enforce federal law,'" said Heather Johnson, spokeswoman for Chatham Conservative Voice, a grassroots organization in the county.

The county saw an estimated tenfold increase in Latino residents between 1990 and 2005 and now is home to one of the largest Latino populations in North Carolina.

In 2000, white supremacist David Duke spoke in Siler City about the Latino influx in the county. The event drew 75 participants, but hundreds of others observed from the sidelines.

Three years ago, one of the largest rallies in North Carolina in favor of legalizing undocumented workers also occurred in Siler City.

George Lucier, chairman of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners, said local officials do enforce the law, but they don't want to take on the federal job of immigration enforcement.

"For the federal government to say to local agencies who are not equipped to handle immigration issues, 'It's your problem,' is not right," Lucier said.

Participating in the 287(g) program also would have required the county to build a new jail, he said.

"Our choice is, do we want to build a new school or do (we) want to build a new jail, and our choice is we'd rather build a new school," he said.

Johnson said local residents didn't have any input before the board decided.

"My concern is over the lack of the transparency," she said. "(The decision is) not a view representative of the citizens of our county."

Lucier said the public had the same notification on the 287(g) resolution as it has of any other item that goes before commissioners. He also said about 70 percent of the e-mails he's gotten since the board took its stand have favored the decision.