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ICE defends NC raids, saying sheriffs releasing dangerous individuals

February 8, 2019
Department of Homeland Security agents detain workers at Bear Creek Arsenal in Sanford on Feb. 5, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Que Pasa)

Federal immigration officials on Friday defended raids carried out across North Carolina this week in which hundreds of people were detained.

More than 200 people were arrested in various “targeted enforcement” actions in the state in recent days, including 27 taken into custody at a Sanford gun manufacturer on Tuesday, according to Sean Gallagher, who oversees U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in the Carolinas and Georgia.

The enforcement actions have become necessary, Gallagher said, as sheriffs in Wake, Durham, Orange and Mecklenburg counties have elected not to cooperate with federal immigration efforts.

Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker and Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead both stopped recognizing immigration detainers and holding people in jail for ICE shortly after they took office in December. Baker also pulled Wake County out of the federal 287(g) program in which local law enforcement agencies work with ICE to check the immigration status of people charged with crimes.

“Some of the dangerous policies that some of our county sheriffs have put into place ... really forces my officers to go out onto the street to conduct more enforcement operations,” Gallagher said at a news conference. “We don’t want to be out doing this at-large enforcement. It’s much more dangerous for my staff, the general public and those being arrested.”

Gallagher rattled off a list of the charges people who have been released from the county jails in recent weeks instead of being turned over to ICE: drug trafficking, sex offenses, assault with a deadly weapon, breaking and entering, armed robbery and assault on an officer.

ICE agents arrested a man in Durham on Friday morning, he said, who had been released from the Orange County jail. The man had previously been deported and now faces charges of indecent liberties with two minors and lives across the street from an elementary school, he said.

“The public would be shocked at the types of individuals these sheriffs are releasing back into the country. This is politics over public safety at its worst,” he said. “Regardless of the fact whether these sheriffs will work with us, we will be out there continuing to protect the citizens of these counties.”

“The Wake County Sheriff’s Office has no role in immigration enforcement,” Baker said in a statement. ”[It] makes no difference whether a person is in this country legally or illegally. If he or she breaks any law in this county, they will be arrested and prosecuted. Any individual released from the Wake County Detention Center has met requirements of bail set by the courts. We release individuals by order of the courts.”

“The recent actions of ICE agents are making persons in our community afraid of law enforcement,” Birkhead said in a statement. “The decision I made to not honor ICE detainers was in part to help all of Durham’s people feel safe and encourage our residents to feel like they can trust my deputies – and law enforcement in general. And, if ICE agents presented a warrant, which is based on probable cause, in my capacity as sheriff, I would support such an action.”

“Orange County has never been a participant in the 287(g) program,” Sheriff Charles Blackwood said in a statement. “Our position is and continues to be that, if we receive documentation that provides the necessary legal basis to satisfy the Fourth Amendment, we will hold the individual. Absent the necessary legal basis to hold someone, they will be released.”

The Sanford raid at Bear Creek Arsenal was part of a search warrant executed by the Department of Homeland Security at the business, and 25 people were charged with criminal offenses and two others with immigration violations, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said.

In other North Carolina enforcement actions this week, 50 people had already been ordered deported by immigration judges and were considered fugitives, another 50 have already been convicted and 40 more have pending criminal charges, Gallagher said. Sixty other people were detained even though they weren’t targeted in the raids, he said.

Despite 30 percent of those arrested not being targets, Gallagher denied that ICE is conducting indiscriminate sweeps in immigrant communities. In the 2017-18 fiscal year, he noted, 91 percent of the people arrested by ICE in the Carolinas and Georgia had been convicted or faced criminal charges.

William Saenz, spokesman for Latino advocacy group El Pueblo, said dozens of those swept up in this week’s raids have no criminal history or pending charges and, in many cases, are the breadwinners for their families. But they now face deportation.

“This is not creating safer communities,” Saenz said. “This is hurting people by creating mental, physical and financial issues for decades down the line.”

Gallagher said that, although ICE targets individuals suspected of committing crimes, agents won’t turn a blind eye to others in the same location who are undocumented, which is a federal crime.

“If they’re unfortunately at the wrong place at the wrong time and they’re illegally in this country, my officers in most cases will take an enforcement action,” he said.

Advocacy groups and the media have stoked fear in immigrant communities by “demonizing” ICE and claiming agents post roadblocks or raid churches and schools to apprehend people, he said.

“It’s really that rhetoric, I think, that has a chilling effect on the immigrant community, both legal and illegal, in this country,” he said.

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