NC sher­iffs are re­ject­ing a crack­down on im­mi­grants

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY NED BAR­NETT Bar­nett: 919-829-4512, nbar­nett@ new­sob­server.com

Wake County Sher­iff Don­nie Har­ri­son said his de­part­ment par­tic­i­pates in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s 287(g) de­por­ta­tion pro­gram be­cause it helps him iden­tify un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who might be wanted for se­ri­ous crimes.

Maybe it does, but by tak­ing up the fed­eral in­vi­ta­tion to more closely scru­ti­nize in­di­vid­u­als, Har­ri­son lost sight of what he was do­ing to the wider pop­u­la­tion of un­doc­u­mented His­panic im­mi­grants and their fam­i­lies in Wake County. Many of them were be­ing ar­rested on mis­de­meanor charges and traf­fic vi­o­la­tions and re­ferred to fed­eral au­thor­i­ties for pos­si­ble de­por­ta­tion.

Be­tween 2013 and 2017, the Wake sher­iff’s of­fice pro­cessed nearly 11,000 peo­ple through 287(g), a fed­eral pro­gram that en­ables spe­cially trained deputies to act as im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers and de­tain peo­ple sus­pected of be­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally. Of those pro­cessed, 1,483 were de­ported. Those de­por­ta­tions took par­ents from their chil­dren and work­ers from their em­ploy­ers. It also in­hib­ited law en­force­ment by mak­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants fear­ful of re­port­ing crimes.

Those ef­fects may ex­plain why Har­ri­son — first elected in 2002 — won’t be Wake’s sher­iff in 2019. Har­ri­son, a Re­pub­li­can heav­ily fa­vored to win re-elec­tion, was up­set by Demo­crat Ger­ald Baker, a re­cently re­tired sher­iff’s de­part­ment em­ployee who promised to end Wake’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the 287(g) pro­gram.

“I don’t sup­port that pro­gram. You see fam­i­lies be­ing torn apart over mi­nor traf­fic stuff,” Baker said in an in­ter­view with the N&O’s ed­i­to­rial board be­fore the elec­tion. “Our job is to serve and pro­tect. It’s not our job to de­ter­mine who be­longs here.”

Baker’s can­di­dacy was helped by a $100,000 Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union cam­paign of ra­dio, print and on­line ads crit­i­cal of Har­ri­son’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the pro­gram.

“We de­cided to in­vest in the cam­paign be­cause there was so much on the line for civil rights and civil lib­er­ties,” said Mike Meno, an ACLU of North Carolina spokesman. “When vot­ers see that peo­ple’s rights are on the bal­lot, they can and will hold pub­lic of­fi­cials ac­count­able.”

Har­ri­son’s de­feat is part of a broader story in North Carolina. Sher­iffs are re­ject­ing a role in im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment. In Meck­len­burg County, vot­ers turned out a sher­iff who par­tic­i­pated in 287(g) in fa­vor of one who promised to cut ties to the pro­gram. With the state’s two largest coun­ties leav­ing the 287(g) pro­gram, only four re­main in­volved: Hen­der­son, Gas­ton, Cabar­rus and Nash.

While Pres­i­dent Trump pushes a crack­down on un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants as a tough-on­crime pol­icy, many in law en­force­ment see it for what it is: a tough-on-brown-peo­ple pol­icy. That may ex­plain why many African-Amer­i­can can­di­dates for sher­iff, a group sen­si­tive to how ag­gres­sive law en­force­ment can slide into ra­cial abuse, op­pose hard­line im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment. The News & Ob­server’s Josh Shaf­fer re­ported that Tues­day’s elec­tion saw black sher­iffs elected in all seven of the state’s largest coun­ties.

Trump will con­tinue his drum­beat about the dan­gers of il­le­gal im­mi­grants, but the fear mon­ger­ing is wear­ing thin. With un­em­ploy­ment so low, the na­tional prob­lem is a lack of work­ers, not too many im­mi­grants. And stud­ies show that un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants ac­tu­ally have lower rates of crime than the gen­eral U.S. pop­u­la­tion. Those who fight crime — such as the newly elected sher­iffs of the state’s seven largest coun­ties — know that crimes are bet­ter pre­vented and solved when un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants feel com­fort­able co­op­er­at­ing with law en­force­ment.

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