Earlier this month, the Nash County Sheriff’s Department entered a partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce federal immigration law through 287(g), a program that has historically been used as a machine to target and racially profile Latinx communities.
Local law enforcement agencies that join the 287(g) program are granted the authority to enforce federal immigration law, including the power to arrest and detain people suspected of immigration violations and hold them in custody for potential deportation. As a result, the program has encouraged racial profiling and civil rights abuses while diverting scarce resources from traditional local law enforcement functions. Under the Trump administration and its anti-immigrant agenda, the number of law enforcement agencies joining this federal program has been dramatically on the rise.
I have personally witnessed how 287(g) tears families apart in Alamance County, North Carolina, my home for many years. As a 287(g) recipient from 2007 to 2012, the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office engaged in widespread racial profiling and civil rights abuses against the local Latinx population, unlawfully targeting people for traffic stops, arrests, seizures, and other enforcement actions. Latinx drivers have been followed by Alamance deputies for long stretches of time and then pulled over for little or no reason. These are not simply my experiences, but the conclusions reached by the Department of Justice after a two-year investigation.
According to witnesses who spoke to the Justice Department, Sheriff Terry Johnson used racial epithets and expressed extreme prejudice against Latinx residents, allegedly ordering deputies to “bring me some Mexicans,” “put heat on” Latinx neighborhoods, and “go out there and get me some of those taco eaters.” Sheriff Johnson lost his 287(g) status after the Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit against his office, but now the Trump administration is considering reinstating its 287(g) contract.
287(g) does not make communities safer. Instead, it encourages the targeting of people based on their skin color or accent and decreases the trust among local law enforcement and community members. Understandably, victims and witnesses of crime are fearful to cooperate with the police. Many people with no criminal record have been deported simply for driving without a license or with a broken tail light.
With Nash County now joining the program, I worry about 287(g) spreading into other counties in North Carolina and across the country. To date, there are 75 287(g) programs across 20 states, including six in North Carolina in Cabarrus, Gaston, Henderson, Mecklenburg, Nash, and Wake counties.
Local law enforcement should focus their resources on programs that promote public safety, not those that violate people’s rights and put many of our neighbors, friends, and co-workers at risk.