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How Sheriff's Office Deals With ICE Post-287(g)

Marking his first act as Mecklenburg County sheriff in early December, Garry McFadden ended his office’s participation in the controversial 287(g) program — under which the sheriff’s office reported the immigration status of its inmates to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But speaking Monday on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks, McFadden said ICE can still obtain information about inmates’ immigration status from his office.


“We still ask the questions, we still provide the information, we still have that information available through different databases at the law enforcement center,” McFadden said. “So, we didn’t take that away.”


But, McFadden said, it’s different from the 287(g) program that his predecessors elected to participate in because his office is “not involved” in the process.


“The sheriff’s office is just not doing what ICE agents should be doing at the jail,” McFadden said. “We just don’t do that work anymore. Our job is to be in the community. Our job is to enforce state and local laws.”


Under the 287(g) program, sheriff’s deputies would run inmates’ information through a federal database to determine if they were in the country illegally. If they were, the office would then notify ICE and hold inmates until agents could take them into custody and begin deportation proceedings.

Credit Nick de la Canal / WFAE
At a news event on the day he ended the county's participation in the program, newly-elected Sheriff Garry McFadden cut a cake with an anti-287(g) logo alongside immigrant activists.

 The new sheriff ended the county’s participation in the program but, McFadden said on Charlotte Talks, ICE is still notified when the sheriff’s office arrests someone who may be in the country illegally. He explained the process:


“We arrest them, bring them in. All the stuff goes into the system — the database. ICE should be aware of the database. If they check the database, they would find that,” McFadden said.


But unless there is a criminal warrant for the inmate’s arrest, McFadden is under no obligation to report the person to ICE. That’s according to Becca O’Neill, an attorney who’s been contracting with the sheriff’s office as it ended participation in 287(g).


Background information such as the inmate’s country of origin or citizenship status is automatically uploaded to a federal database upon arrest. But O’Neill said ICE has always had access to that database, even in counties who don’t participate in 287(g).


She further clarified McFadden’s remarks and explained how his office differs from that of his predecessors who opted into the 287(g) program. Here are a few differences:


First, sheriff’s deputies are no longer deputized by the Department of Homeland Security to carry out ICE duties, which they were under 287(g). For example, deputies are no longer trained to question inmates and determine if they violated federal immigration laws.


Also under 287(g), there used to be an ICE agent stationed inside the Mecklenburg County Jail. That’s no longer the case, O’Neill said.


Further, she said McFadden’s office is no longer honoring “detainers.” These are ICE requests to voluntarily detain inmates who are found to be in the country illegally past the time local law enforcement is obligated to hold them. Previously, the sheriff’s office would hold the inmate long enough for ICE agents to obtain that person.


Through his campaign and in his early term as sheriff, McFadden has made clear his desire to build trust between his office and the immigrant community. He echoed that sentiment on Charlotte Talks.


“It is up to us to build trust in the community,” McFadden said. “If ICE and Homeland Security doesn’t want to build it, we’re going to build it.”