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New Meck Sheriff's First Act Ends Participation In 287(g)

Updated 9:09 p.m.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden has sent a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement halting the county's voluntary participation in the 287(g) program.

The decision marks McFadden's first act since being sworn in.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden
Credit Logan Cyrus

The letter was delivered Wednesday morning. McFadden was sworn into office at a ceremony Tuesday evening.

"We have to show Charlotte that this is a step in the right direction," McFadden said during brief remarks at a Wednesday afternoon press event. "I need everybody's help to show Charlotte and the nation that we are doing the right thing."

The event was held at an immigrant-owned bakery in east Charlotte, and featured a sheetcake decorated with an anti-287(g) logo, which McFadden helped slice. Immigrant activists also presented him with a t-shirt, framed artwork, and bread pudding.

The 287(g) program had been in place in Mecklenburg County since 2006, and had served as a way for ICE to retreive Mecklenburg County inmates who were found to be in the country illegally.

Under the program, sheriff's deputies would run inmate's information through a federal database to determine if they were in the country illegally. If they were, ICE would be notified and the inmates held until ICE agents could take them into custody and begin deportation proceedings.

Over the last 12 years, more than 15,000 people have been processed for deportation through the program in Mecklenburg County.

An analysis of public records by WFAE found that of 455 people detained through the Mecklenburg County jail in Fiscal Year 2017, about 65 percent faced misdemeanor charges or traffic violations. About 35 percent faced felony charges.

Driving while intoxicated was the most common crime, making up about a quarter of the arrests.

The program was a top campaign issue in the May 2018 primary. 

Credit Oliver Merino
Comunidad Colectiva is a grassroots volunteer organization that mobilized the Latino vote around ending 287(g) in Mecklenburg County.

Incumbent Democratic sheriff Irwin Carmichael defended his office's participation in the program, while his two Democratic opponents, Garry McFadden and Antoine Ensley, promised to end 287(g) if elected.

Immigrant advocacy groups got involved, distributing anti-287(g) campaign signs and endorsing McFadden for the office.

McFadden, a former CMPD homicide detective, beat both Carmicheal and Ensley in the primary, and ran unopposed in the general election.

Following the election, activists sent some 700 letters to McFadden's home urging him to keep his promise to end the program.

Three other North Carolina counties - Alamance, Guilford, and Cumberland - have previously ended participation in the 287(g) program in recent years. However, Guilford County has maintained an informal relationship with ICE, and still turns over immigrant inmates in the country illegally if an ICE agent is able to retrieve them within a reasonable amount of time.

Meanwhile, 287(g) programs remain in place in at least five other North Carolina counties, including Cabarrus, Gaston, Henderson, Nash, and Wake Counties.

Following the May primary, a spokesperson for ICE, Bryan Cox, warned that if Mecklenburg County were to drop out of the program, ICE would be forced to step up arrests locally. Reached for comment Wednesday, Cox repeated that point, saying the agency was left with "no choice."

Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal