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Two More NC Sheriffs Follow Mecklenburg County, End Agreements With ICE

Nick de la Canal

Sheriffs in Wake and Durham Counties have announced an end to their offices’ agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a step that was also taken by new Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden.

Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker and Durham County Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead announced policy changes Friday.

Wake County joins Mecklenburg County in ending its participation in the federal 287(g) program. Under the program, sheriff's deputies would run inmates' 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. Since 2006, the program has sent thousands of people into deportation proceedings.

“We serve a lot of communities,” Baker said when he made his announcement Friday. “We want to make it so that the Wake County Sheriff’s Office treats everybody the same and improves the quality of life for each and every person. It’s about humanity. It’s about just caring for people. That’s a large part of what this office will be doing, moving forward.”

Credit Nick de la Canal / WFAE
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden cuts cake with community activists while announcing the end of 287(g).

McFadden had a similar message when he announced the end of Mecklenburg County’s participation in the program Wednesday.

"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."

Durham County never participated in 287(g), but Birkhead announced Friday that the county will no longer honor ICE detainers, which are used to hold suspects up to an additional 48 hours. According to WTVD, Birkhead issued a policy directing the staff at the county detention center to release ICE detainees as soon as they are eligible.

In Wake, Baker said the sheriff’s office would review the cases of inmates currently held under the 287(g) program and honor only “lawfully issued” detainer, according to the Raleigh News and Observer.

Immigration was a top campaign issue in the May primary sheriff races across the state. In Mecklenburg County, incumbent Democratic Sheriff Irwin Carmichael defended his office’s participation in the program and was ousted by McFadden, who is also a Democrat.

Similar outcomes happened in both Wake and Durham Counties. In Wake, Baker, a Democrat, defeated longtime Republican incumbent Donnie Harrison who initiated the county’s participation in 287(g). In Durham, Birkhead defeated incumbent Sheriff Mike Andrews in the Democratic primary, who had been criticized for honoring ICE detainers.

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

ICE has warned that it will be forced to step up arrests locally in Mecklenburg County now that the 287(g) program has ended. Reached for comment Wednesday, ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox said the agency was left with "no choice."