ICE blasts Mecklenburg sheriff for ending controversial jail immigration program

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden’s decision to end a jail immigration program “is an open invitation to aliens who commit criminal offenses,” an official with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Thursday night — adding that “residents should expect a more visible ICE presence in Charlotte, as ICE will now have no choice but to conduct more at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at worksites.”

That change “will inevitably result in additional collateral arrests instead of arrests at the jail where enforcement is safer for everyone involved,” said ICE Atlanta Field Office Director Sean Gallagher, in a statement emailed to the Charlotte Observer Thursday.

Wake County’s newly elected sheriff, Gerald Baker, said Friday his office also will no longer participate in the program, the (Raleigh) News & Observer reported.

McFadden notified ICE on Wednesday that he was ending the county’s 287(g) program that “has sent more than 15,000 people into deportation proceedings since 2006,” the Observer reported. McFadden, a former longtime Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department detective, ended the program on his first full day as sheriff.

He said that ending the program in part “means people in immigrant communities will be more willing to report crime,” according to the Observer’s article.

“In Fiscal Year 2018 the Mecklenburg County 287g program encountered 1,185 criminal aliens; yesterday’s decision to end this law enforcement agreement leaves them to reoffend against the people of Mecklenburg County,” Gallagher’s statement said.

It added that “despite the challenges (McFadden’s) decision creates, ICE remains committed to enforcing federal law, and this decision does not mean immigration enforcement will decrease in Mecklenburg County.”

In response, McFadden issued a brief statement at 5 p.m. Friday:

“Approximately 78 counties of more than 3000 in our nation voluntarily agree to participate in the 287(g) program,” the statement said. “Sheriff McFadden is committed to doing his job to keep the community safe. The Sheriff’s Office is looking forward to a positive working relationship with ICE. The agency will focus important resources on complying with state and federal laws.”

ICE’s website says the agency “has 287(g) agreements with 78 law enforcement agencies in 20 states.”

Immigrant advocacy groups had celebrated the end of 287(g) in Mecklenburg on Wednesday, hosting McFadden at an event at Manolo’s Bakery on Central Avenue. There, he signed the termination of 287(g) and cut a sheet cake decorated with “287(g)” with a line struck through it.

Stefania Arteaga, organizer of advocacy group Comunidad Colectiva, called ICE’s statement “fear mongering” on Friday.

“The reality is, ICE is making it seem like they don’t already do this,” Arteaga told the Observer. “They have been doing raids all along.”

Arteaga hosts regular “know your rights” educational forums for immigrants to make them aware of what to do if approached by ICE officers. She plans to continue those, she said, and to step up community networks to track when and where ICE arrests are happening.

“The community is very reactive toward ICE’s actions, and so I think we’re at a point where the community will stand up and fight back,” Arteaga said.

She pointed to the community response when ICE arrested a woman in July who was attending a domestic violence hearing at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. “People were infuriated,” she said.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067; @jmarusak

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