Local News

Study: Immigration program leads to profiling

Posted February 18, 2009 10:52 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— The federal program that allows local law enforcement to identify illegal immigrants charged with crimes has created a climate of racial profiling, according to a report released Wednesday by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.

The 287(g) immigration program, administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, gives local law enforcement agencies access to federal immigration databases so they can identify illegal immigrants they have arrested on local charges.

Wake, Cumberland, Alamance and five other counties already participate in the program, and last year, more than 3,000 illegal immigrants were deported from North Carolina. According to the report, most were not violent criminals.

"We know there have been checkpoints set up outside Latino churches, checkpoints outside Latino markets," said Deborah Weissman, director of clinical programs at UNC's School of Law.

In Wake County, more than 1,200 people have been identified through the program, which started last July, Sheriff Donnie Harrison has said.

Harrison said he disputes the study's findings allegations and that there is no racial profiling in Wake County.

"We're not profiling anybody. I mean, they're welcome to check any paperwork we have," Harrison said. "They have introduced themselves to us by committing a crime, doesn't make a difference how small it is."

The authors admit they have no hard data or concrete evidence to prove racial proviling takes place and that their study is based on anecdotal reports.

The 152-page report also says the "unexpected and problematic outcomes" of the program is reluctance among illegal immigrants to contact police if they are witnesses to or victims of crime because of the risk of being jailed or deported.

"We found serious erosion of community trust, as well as legal concerns," Weissman said.

When it passed in 1996, the 287(g) program was designed to target terrorists and violent criminals. Based on the UNC study, the program is not being used for its intended purpose.

"The overwhelming number of individuals arrested pursuant to 287(g) and removed pursuant to this program have been arrested for traffic offenses, often driving without a driver's license," Weissman said.

The report does list recommendations to improve the program, one of which is to process only convicted felons.

It also says comprehensive immigration reform is needed on the federal level. They say immigration is not the business of local agencies.
Harrison responds, saying that robbing a bank is a federal offense but that doesn't stop him from arresting bank robbers.

"Are we supposed to turn our heads, just because a person violates the law and doesn't have any ID?" Harrison said. "Are we supposed to pat them on the back and say, 'Don't do that again?' I don't think so."

The authors, however, believe stereotyping and racial play a role in who gets arrested.

"If we're doing something wrong, we'd like to see it," Harrison said.