Alamance County has been identifying and deporting illegal immigrants from its jails for more than a year. But a librarian's arrest has some worried that county officials might be using another tool – public health department records.
The concerns stem from a State Bureau of Investigation probe of the county health department. Some county officials, who called in the SBI, think department employees were helping illegal immigrants work under false names.
The sheriff has suggested that the librarian's arrest was related to her care at the health department, but has not said whether medical information was used to identify her. The woman's arrest has become so contentious that some residents are organizing against the county's efforts to drive out illegal immigrants.
“To go after productive citizens who have been our neighbors and friends for years? It's insane,” said Marilyn Tyler, a retired librarian from Burlington who knew the arrested woman.
The librarian, Marxavi Angel Martinez, 23, is a former cheerleader and honor student who grew up in the county, friends say. Few who knew her had any idea that her parents brought her from Mexico illegally as a toddler.
Martinez, who was arrested in the library, is charged with four federal felonies, all related to the use of a dead person's Social Security number. If found guilty, she would face several years in prison before being deported.
According to the federal complaint against Martinez, Sheriff Terry Johnson turned her in. Johnson has become well known for his efforts to deport illegal immigrants, but he has promised not to pursue people unless they land in his jail for other crimes.
Johnson's spokesman, Randy Jones, said Johnson received a tip that Martinez had lied about her citizenship when applying to work for the library.
“That is not a situation where you can say, ‘We're not going to tell anybody,'” Jones said.
The controversy arose in May, when the county's health board heard that employees at the public clinic would write notes to illegal immigrants' employers excusing them for illness. In the notes, they called the patients by false names, the officials said. The names, they said, were different than those on the medical records.
Some county officials asked the sheriff to investigate the practice. The sheriff called in the SBI; the medical director and a nurse were suspended.
SBI spokeswoman Noelle Talley said the SBI is investigating only county employees and that the SBI had no part in the arrest of the librarian.
But Martinez's arrest in mid-July raised concerns that the county may be examining confidential medical information. Johnson told reporters that Martinez got prenatal care at the department. He said the tip about her immigration status came from a county employee and was related to the health department investigation.
Johnson declined to be interviewed. Jones, his spokesman, said the sheriff's department is not combing through medical records.
Chris Hoke, a lawyer with the state Division of Public Health, said using confidential medical records to find illegal immigrants would be unacceptable.
He worries it might be happening in Alamance County, but hasn't been able to get answers to his questions from local authorities.
Since Martinez's arrest, immigration officials have begun deportation proceedings for Martinez's husband, her parents and her sister, said her lawyer, David Smith of Greensboro.
Her son, who is nearly 2, is a U.S. citizen.