Some 200 people were arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement across North Carolina this week, including 60 who were not specifically targeted but were encountered by ICE agents during the operation, the agency reported Friday.
Sean Gallagher, director of ICE's field office in Atlanta, said 90 of those arrested had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges, and another 50 had been previously ordered to leave the U.S.
Gallagher said his agency has been forced to carry out more at-large arrests after several North Carolina counties stopped allowing ICE agents to access county jails through the 287g program.
"We don't want to be out doing this at-large enforcement," Gallagher said during a Friday news conference, "It's much more dangerous for my staff, for the general public and those being arrested. I'd rather have my officers take custody of a criminal in the safe confines of a county jail, but we have jurisdictions within this state that refuse to allow ICE access to those jails."
The Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office stopped cooperating with ICE in December under orders from newly-elected sheriff Gary McFadden. Wake and Durham counties have also shuttered their 287g programs in recent months, and Forsyth County said this week it too would end its program.
Gallagher also disputed charges that his agency was making indiscriminate traffic stops and arrests. He said ICE agents only searched for people tied to specific vehicles or addresses. Still, he said, if agents encountered other people in the country illegally while in the field, they would not "turn a blind eye."
Gallagher said as long as county jails continued to shut out his agency, ICE would continue to step up at-large enforcement.
"The new normal is you will see more a visible ICE presence out in the community," he said, "You will see an increase in enforcement."