In 2008, Yolanda Zavala’s 18-year-old son was ticketed by a police officer for driving without a license. What should’ve been a minor citation turned into his deportation. That’s because, at that time, Wake County participated in the federal 287(g) program, which allows local police to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and help enforce federal immigration law.
Stories like what happened to Yolanda’s son are why voters in Wake and Mecklenburg counties last year rejected the 287(g) program, electing new sheriffs who campaigned against the anti-immigrant agenda and ended their counties’ agreements with ICE upon taking office.
Now only four North Carolina counties still hold these anti-immigrant agreements with ICE: Henderson, Nash, Cabarrus, and Gaston. On June 30, the four sheriffs from these counties will decide whether to renew or end their collaboration with ICE. Under the 287(g) program, a local agency, usually local sheriffs who run the county jail, work with ICE to enforce federal immigration law.
We know that when local law enforcement works with federal immigration officers to target, detain, and deport community members, it threatens people’s rights and it harms public safety by spreading fear and diverting resources, making people less likely to report crimes or trust law enforcement. ICE claims that they are only going after “criminals” who pose a public safety risk, but time and time again, we find cases where people are being deported after being stopped for minor offenses, like traffic violations. Former Henderson County Sheriff Rick Davis affirmed this was a practice that came with the new power these agreements granted them, explaining: “It would give the Sheriff the discretion as to whether someone that is coming through the detention center with minor crimes would go through the deportation process.”
While many local agencies entered into these ICE agreements with the idea that they would be able to make money, essentially by terrorizing immigrant communities,that has not been the reality. Local governments are bearing the brunt of costs associated with almost all aspects of custody. In fact, many counties have outspent the financial reimbursement amounts involved with these ICE agreements. Before ending their agreement, Wake County spent at least $1.7 million but was only reimbursed $112,000. And in Mecklenburg County, the gap between the amount spent by the county and the federal reimbursements was $3.6 million. In just one decade of participation, North Carolina taxpayers have spent $81.7 million on 287(g) agreements.
At this point, these counties need to ask themselves if the cost of hindering public safety efforts and eroding community trust is really worth helping the federal government execute its anti-immigrant deportation agenda. Let’s be clear: 287(g) has been around since before this current administration, however, the Trump administration has not been shy about their intentions, which are to deport undocumented immigrants and fulfill the anti-immigrant promises he made during his presidential campaign. This administration has dramatically increased the use of immigration detention and stated that everyone who is undocumented is a priority for ICE. 287(g) has been and will continue to be a tool to fulfill a hateful and racist agenda until we get rid of it for good. Based on what we know, 287(g) agreements do more harm than good for our communities. We need to end this program everywhere in our state before it hurts North Carolinians more than it already has.