As deportation fears continue to roil the immigrant community, Mecklenburg County’s sheriff wants people to know his office doesn’t decide who gets deported by federal authorities.
Sheriff Irwin Carmichael briefly detailed for reporters Thursday his office’s participation in a federal program referred to as 287(g). The department has no plans to stop participating in the program, as some community leaders have demanded.
Under 287(g), people who have been arrested and sent to jail are checked out by sheriff’s deputies, in partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to identify potential undocumented immigrants or those who have violated their immigration status.
Carmichael stressed that ICE determines who is deported, not the sheriff’s office, and his deputies do not go out in the community to enforce federal immigration laws.
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Social media reports in recent weeks have suggested both the sheriff’s office and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have participated in road checkpoints to find undocumented immigrants. Both departments have denied the rumors.
“There have been a lot of questions about the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office and how it related to immigration and the 287(g) program,” Carmichael said. “No one encounters 287(g) deputies unless they are arrested, charged with a crime and brought to the Mecklenburg County Jail.”
Immigrants and their supporters in the area and around the country have remained on edge as President Donald Trump continues his push to deport undocumented immigrants.
On Monday, about 200 protesters shouted down Charlotte City Council members. And in mid-February, thousands of people marched in uptown Charlotte in support of immigrant rights.
At the sheriff’s office, every person who has been arrested, regardless of race or ethnicity, is asked two questions during processing, Capt. Daniel Stitt said: What country are you a citizen or naturalized citizen of? Where were you born?
Depending on the answers, people could face additional questions by one of eight deputies trained to work in the 287(g) program as they try to determine if the person is unlawfully in the country.
In the 2016 fiscal year, 1,241 foreign nationals went through the county program and 100 were deported, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said.
On Monday night, protesters demanded that Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts stand up to the sheriff’s office.
She said she would “have conversations” with the office and was met by boos. Roberts also said the state threatened to take away millions of dollars of funding if Charlotte opposes programs like 287(g).
Mecklenburg County has participated in the program since 2006.
In that time, Carmichael said, the department has discovered it was holding undocumented immigrants who were wanted for felony child abuse, murder and possessing a weapon of mass destruction. As a result of such arrests, Carmichael believes participating in 287(g) makes both his staff and the community safer.
Another layer of security comes when deputies run people’s information through federal databases to help determine their identity and where they are from, Stitt said. That could, for instance, help identify people who are gang members in their home country.
Stitt said Trump’s recent executive orders have not had any impact on how the 287(g) program is implemented. The eight deputies are paid by the county; ICE pays for program costs and equipment.
Staff writer Mark Price contributed.