Sheriff Terry Johnson is known for egregious racial profiling. He just secured $2.8 million in funding to do ICE’s bidding.
North Carolina Sheriff Terry Johnson is notorious across the country for his horrific record of civil rights abuses and history of targeting the Latinx community in Alamance County. So it is beyond troubling that this week he was given $2.8 million in funding to move forward with his plan to partner with ICE to house federal detainees in his county’s jail. This is not what local jails are for, and the potential for abuse and the violation of rights is unacceptable.
Unsurprisingly, Johnson used fearmongering and false, racist statements about immigrant populations, claiming that “criminal illegal immigrants” are “actually raping our citizens in many, many ways,” in his attempt to get the millions he wanted to profile and harass those very same immigrant communities that he portrayed as threatening. But it is Sheriff Johnson who is the threat.
In 2012 the U.S. Department of Justice filed a jaw-dropping civil rights lawsuit against Johnson, charging that under his direction, the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office systematically and unlawfully targeted Latinx residents for investigation, traffic stops, arrests, seizures, and other enforcement actions since at least 2007. Following a two-year investigation and interviews with more than 100 witnesses, DOJ amassed evidence of a widespread pattern of racial profiling, including Johnson’s ordering his deputies to “bring [him] some Mexicans”, and assuming, without any factual basis, that all Latinx North Carolinians arrived in the state illegally.
After the sheriff’s office's egregious civil rights abuses were exposed, ICE rightfully terminated its 287(g) agreement – a program that authorizes local deputies to perform functions of federal immigration agents – and the sheriff’s office was stripped of its authority to investigate potential immigration violations by individuals detained in the county jail. This is not the first time the feds have dissolved such an agreement, and in the face of rampant abuse and racism, it should not be the last.
In fact, over the past decade, several such agreements have been terminated as a result of unconstitutional policing practices such as racial profiling, including the agreement involving Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Arizona.
It has become glaringly obvious that regardless of location, 287(g) agreements are bad policy that cause grievous harm. Such agreements can frighten community members from reporting crimes and from seeking even the most basic assistance from law enforcement. In other words, such agreements do not enforce the rule of law. They undermine it.
Five years after being sued, Sheriff Johnson remained in office as DOJ changed hands and the Trump administration began to push its anti-immigrant agenda. Local community members and advocates continued to organize in the county and pressure the sheriff’s office to end all collaboration with ICE. But even under pressure through 2018, Sheriff Johnson did not rejoin the 287(g) program.
Now – with a unanimous vote from the county board of commissioners – Johnson has been given the green light to use the Alamance County jail as a glorified immigration detention center, and to use $2.8 million in taxpayer funds to detain and transport people on behalf of federal immigration authorities. Furthermore, Johnson has requested 22 new officers to staff the detention center, which will have at least 50 beds for immigrant detainees.
Sheriff Johnson has already proven that any collaboration with ICE will inevitably lead to racial profiling, family separation, and an erosion of trust among immigrant communities. And in engaging in this new collaboration he will continue to compromise public safety and equal protection of the laws, not to mention waste precious local resources.
No one, including members of especially vulnerable communities, should be treated as a source of revenue for law enforcement. Sheriff Johnson’s latest attempt to do just that to our neighbors, family members, coworkers, and members of the wider Alamance County community must not stand.