State News

Illegal immigration debate moves to forefront of Dole, Hagan campaigns

Posted May 28, 2008 4:01 a.m. EDT
Updated May 28, 2008 12:23 p.m. EDT

— Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole is launching her first campaign ad of the year with a 60-second spot that touts her work on illegal immigration.

The ad, set to begin airing Wednesday, includes clips from a number of sheriffs who praise the first-term senator for helping link them to federal immigration tools.

Dole's campaign said it has spent about $500,000 to air the spot statewide for about two weeks. She has banked some $3.2 million for her re-election bid.

Rival Kay Hagan ran a couple of ads before her primary victory at the beginning of May. Hagan reported having just $317,000 cash on hand in mid-April.

Dole's advertisement comes one day after Hagan met with six sheriffs to discuss immigration.

Hagan said Tuesday she supports the idea of county-federal partnerships that put illegal immigrants who commit crimes on the path to deportation.

But unlike other candidates for top statewide office, including Dole, Hagan told a group of North Carolina sheriffs that she has some major concerns about how officials are proceeding with the program.

"The citizens of North Carolina pay federal taxes," Hagan told a half-dozen sheriffs during a round-table in Raleigh. "Immigration is certainly a federal issue, and the federal government cannot be throwing another unfunded federal mandate down on us at the state level."

Dole has been a leading advocate, traveling the state to help sheriffs sign up. Hogan Gidley, a spokesman for Dole's campaign, said the first-term senator wanted to begin fixing the problem as Congress struggles to find a solution.

"Sen. Dole is not going to sit around in Washington and wait for what it's going to do," Gidley said. "North Carolinians want results."

But Hagan said that she would not encourage sheriffs to participate in the 287 (g) program if it costs counties money. And the state senator from Greensboro also said she thinks the county-by-county participation creates a patchwork solution, so she warmed to the idea of a more regional plan she said could be more effective and efficient.

Mecklenburg is one of five North Carolina counties that are participating in the program, and deputies there have already started to deport some 4,300 people who came through the jail system in the past two years. Sheriff Chipp Bailey echoed Hagan's concern that local officials have been tasked with a job that they shouldn't have to do.

"Local law enforcement is having to take on some of the federal responsibility for the protection of our community," Bailey said.

Bailey also said in an interview that his office has 18 people dedicated to managing the program. But he said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays a decent per diem to keep inmates in jail as they await deportation.

Hagan is the only major candidate with qualms about going forward with 287 (g). Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bev Perdue has said she supports giving state money to fund the program, while Republican rival Pat McCrory supports putting the program in every sheriff's office in North Carolina.

Hagan also said she wants to focus on securing borders and making sure that employers are hiring legal workers.

"The whole way we handle immigration in this country is flawed," Hagan said. "We don't have an immigration system, and that's why we have a border that's not secured."