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Controversial jail immigration program is not working as it should, police chief says

Sheriff Irwin Carmichael speaks about the 287(g) program on March 13, 2018. The controversial program has sent thousands of undocumented immigrants into deportation proceedings when they’re identified as undocumented in the Mecklenburg County Jail.
Sheriff Irwin Carmichael speaks about the 287(g) program on March 13, 2018. The controversial program has sent thousands of undocumented immigrants into deportation proceedings when they’re identified as undocumented in the Mecklenburg County Jail.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney doesn't think a controversial immigration program at the Mecklenburg County Jail is being used according to its original intent — and he has shared those concerns with the county sheriff, the police department confirmed.

Sheriff Irwin Carmichael has repeatedly defended the 287(g) program, which provides access to a federal database where jail officials can check the immigration status for anyone arrested in Mecklenburg County, whether they're charged with a traffic violation or a violent crime.

After Sheriff Irwin Carmichael made a statement Capt. Daniel Stitt gave a tour of the booking and intake areas of Mecklenburg County Jail Central where ICE agents bring immigrants.

Critics say the program reduces community trust and limits due process, because people are searched in the database after they're arrested, not convicted. Carmichael, a Democrat, is running for reelection, and both his rivals in the May primary oppose the program.

In a podcast discussion with two City Council members released last week, Putney said the program could be a "good tool" if it targets violent criminals.

"The intent was to make sure we're taking felons and gang members, who are violent, out of play," he said. "If you apply (the program) specific to those reasons, I think you'd have a totally different outcome. If you're asking everybody about their national origin, I think it's a different application. And so if it were as it were designed, I think it's a good tool. I don't know that it's being applied that way."

The Observer is waiting on Immigration and Customs Enforcement to fulfill a public records request for the charges filed against people encountered through 287(g) at the Mecklenburg County Jail — specifically, how many are charged with felonies and how many are charged with misdemeanors.

More than 15,000 people have been processed for deportation since the program began at the jail in 2006, the sheriff's office said in a report released at the end of January. Nearly 4,000 of those people were arrested for DWI.

In 2017, ICE encountered 1,307 people through 287(g) at the Mecklenburg County Jail, and 901 had prior criminal convictions while 406 did not, ICE said.

Asked whether the program limits trust between Charlotte's immigrant communities and law enforcement on March 13, Carmichael said he had not heard any concerns from the county's police chiefs.

Putney and Carmichael have not specifically discussed trust as an issue connected to the 287(g) program, officials with CMPD and the sheriff's office told the Observer. They have talked about the 287(g) program and Putney's concerns about its application, which are similar to what he said in the podcast, CMPD spokesperson Rob Tufano said.

Asked whether he believes the program reduces community trust, Putney said in a statement that there is no data to measure the program's effect on trust.

Jane Wester: 704-358-5128, @janewester

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