RALEIGH, N.C. — Activists marching across the state for immigrants' rights rallied on the steps of the state Capitol on Friday in support of abolishing 287(g), a federal program that allows local law enforcement officers to act as immigration officials.
"We're looking for immigration reform," said Tony Macias, assistant director of the Durham-based group Student Action With Farm Workers. "We think that the laws are inhumane and the way that those laws are practiced are also inhumane."
A recent congressional report criticized 287(g) saying it is not being used correctly and could lead to officers misusing their authority. Other reports have suggested the program leads to profiling.
The pilot program is under way in select locations throughout the United States, including Wake County. It gives local law enforcement agencies access to federal immigration databases so they can identify illegal immigrants they have arrested.
Since it started last July in Wake County, sheriff's deputies have referred nearly 1,600 people to immigration officials.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office found immigration officials did not clearly explain to officers how to use their arrest authority under the program, nor did they tell local officers that the program is meant for the pursuit of serious offenders.
"Many folks who either have been arrested or detained for minor traffic violations or for not having a license have ultimately been sent to a detention center and many times deported," said Betty Marin, with the group, Witness for Peace.
Marin said 287(g) is a small part of the bigger issue of immigration rights.
"If the current laws are a failure, it doesn't make any sense to continue enforcing them," she said.
Others support 287(g) and say it is doing what it is meant to do – taking offenders off the street.
"We have a very serious problem in America with illegal immigration and the cost associated with it," said Ron Woodard, director of N.C. Listen, a Cary nonprofit whose members advocate for legal immigration.
The group also believes the number of legal immigrants allowed to enter the U.S. should be limited while there is a recession and while the unemployment rate is high.
Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison has said he also supports the program, which costs about $150,000 to run annually. He has said he plans to keep the program running.
Friday's stop at the Capitol is one of several on the five-day “Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace," which was organized by the Carolinas Interfaith Task Force on Central America.
Marchers from 33 organizations and churches marched 100 miles to advocate for immigrants' and workers rights. They spoke on a number of other issues, as well, including increased salaries and better working conditions for farm workers and the death penalty.