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FAQ City: What Is The 287g Program? And Other Questions Answered

Nick de la Canal
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael at a March 13 press conference.

If you've been keeping up with the news in Charlotte, you've probably encountered the term "287(g)."

It refers to the 287(g) program, a voluntarily partnership between the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has become a controversial sticking point in the upcoming May 8 primary for Mecklenburg County sheriff.

If you're not too clear on what the program is, here's a basic primer.

Under the program, anyone arrested and brought into the Mecklenburg County jail will get asked two questions:

  • What country are you a citizen or national of?
  • Where were you born?

Based on the answers to those questions, the sheriff's office might run an inmate's name through a federal database that both checks immigration status and runs a criminal background check. If an inmate is found to be living in the country illegally, the sheriff's office will tell ICE, which might move to deport the person, or let them off the hook.
More than 15,000 people have been placed into deportation proceedings through the county's 287(g) program since it began in 2006.

Immigrant activists and some public officials have condemned the program, saying it tears families apart and sows distrust of law enforcement. Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael has countered by saying it impacts the county's "safety and security" and keeps dangerous criminal immigrants off the streets.

He's backed this up at a number of press conferences and public appearances by stressing some of the terrible crimes committed by immigrants detained through the program, among them murder, arson, kidnapping, statutory rape of a child under the age of 15, and drug trafficking - all serious crimes to be sure.

But how many people detained through the program are accused murderers, or violent criminals for that matter? And how many were detained for lesser crimes, for example, speeding, or driving without a license?

On this episode of FAQ City, WFAE listener Barbara Randolph writes in with that question, prompting us to file a public records request and find out. Then, we talk with researcher Mai Nguyen of UNC Chapel Hill, who's studied the effects of 287(g) programs in North Carolina and how it impacts both immigrant communities and law enforcement.

Credit WFAE

Check out this data for yourself - the sheriff's office has now listed it on its website.

Special thanks to Mai Nguyen of UNC Chapel Hill for sharing her research with us, and thanks as well to our question-asker, Barbara Randolph, who has been doing lots of research on the subject herself with the help of other advocacy groups.

If you'd like to dive even deeper into the 287(g) program, here are the studies we cited in this story:

  • 2018 study by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington D.C., which found 287(g) programs do not fight crime in North Carolina, (but, interestingly, do correspond with higher levels of assaults on police officers.)

The sheriff's office also has lots of information about the program available on its website.

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal