Immigration Enforcement

Sheriff heralds 287(g) program, says gang activity down

By Tomas Murawski
Staff WriterAlamance News
December 6, 2007

County officials are heralding the success of a program that trains sheriff’s deputies to arrest and process illegal immigrants under federal supervision.

The sheriff and others familiar with this program, which is known as Section 287 (g), insist that it has reduced some violent crimes by as much as 50 percent, and the sheriff credits it with a decrease in gang activity within unincorporated parts of the county.

But the members of one local group are emphatic that the county isn’t doing enough to crack down on illegal immigrants, and they insist that they have the documentation to show what the county has missed in its zeal to deal with immigrants who are suspected of other crimes.

Earlier this week, members of NC Voice, a grassroots group that formed over the summer, approached the county commissioners to inform them about what they say is a pervasive problem with illegal businesses that cater to immigrants, and especially those of Hispanic descent.

“There is a broad spectrum of violations here,” Mike Kelley, a spokesman for the group, told the commissioners on Monday. “We have come to the commissioners because there are a number of businesses operating in Alamance County that are operating without privilege licenses and are not subject to taxation.”

Kelley said that he and his colleagues reached this conclusion after they dug through tax records and other public documents that the county has on file.

Kelley told The Alamance News that he won’t provide any specifics about this investigation to the public until he’s able to share them with the commissioners.

“I will say that a number of state and federal agencies have been contacted regarding our findings,” Kelley elaborated in an interview. “We were specifically advised by federal officials to bring the matter to the attention of local government leaders and were told that if our concerns were not addressed within 7 to 10 days to notify the federal officials, and they would at that time intervene.”

Kelley said that the group’s inquiry initially focused on businesses that employ, or are owned by, illegal immigrants. Kelley added, however, that the investigation revealed violations at a number of businesses that have nothing to do with illegal immigrants. The group’s spokesman wouldn’t say how many businesses were implicated in the inquiry, although he acknowledged that it was “a shockingly large number.”

Kelley asked the commissioners to meet with him and the group’s other members to discuss the organization’s concerns, and some of the commissioners were eager to take him up on the offer.

“I for one would like to meet with them,” said commissioner Bill Lashley. “I would like to know what they have to say.”

Commissioner Tim Sutton also said that he’d like to meet with the group, although he added that he’s not sure the organization appreciates what the county has already done about illegal immigration.

Sutton was instrumental in the county’s decision to sign onto the Section 287(g) program, which is sponsored by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The commissioner began pushing the program long before the county launched it in February, and Sutton is quick to point out that Alamance County was one of the first places in the United States that obtained the program’s special enforcement authority.

“Out of some 3,700 counties, we were 12th”, Sutton said that Monday’s commissioners meeting, “and that’s impressive.”

Section 287(g), which is named after the relevant portion of a federal act that created the program, allows certain specially-trained deputies to identify, charge, and process people for immigration violations once they’ve been brought tp the county jail for other unrelated offenses. The sheriff’s department detains many of these individuals once they’ve been charged, although it also houses many illegal immigrants through a separate detention program that allows the federal government to lease bed space for out-of-county inmates in the county jail.

The sheriff’s department reports that, as of last week, it processed a total of 368 people for immigration violations through Section 287(g). Randy Jones, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department, pointed out that some of these inmates may not have been local because federal agents are known to haul in suspects from other areas for processing. Even so, the department insists that the program has helped weed out the criminal element within Alamance County’s immigrant community.

Sheriff Terry Johnson told the commissioners that the county has seen a precipitous drop in many violent crimes since Section 287(g) went into effect.

“It’s shocking,” Johnson told the commissioners on Monday. “it’s telling me that the individuals who are breaking the law are leaving the county.”

Johnson said that, according to the department’s latest figures, rates for most of the “index” crimes that the department tracks have gone down during the eight months between February and September of this year as compared with the same period last year.

Johnson told the commissioners that the department has witnessed 38 percent fewer rapes and 29 percent fewer armed robberies during this year’s eight-month period. He acknowledged that break-ins have gone up about 11 percent, although he attributed the increase to the illegal drug trade rather than crimes committed by illegal immigrants. Johnson also told the commissioners that the county has seen a drop in gang-related activity since it implemented Section 287(g).

“Our gang problem in the county has gone down,” the sheriff said Monday. “I can tell you it’s gone down in the county.”

http://www.ncvoice.info/localnews.html

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December 11, 2007 - Posted by | alamance, north carolina | , , , ,

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