In response to swelling anti-immigrant hysteria across North Carolina, state law enforcement officials in seven counties and one city have signed up to use their own resources to help the federal government identify and deport undocumented immigrants. So-called "287(g) agreements" with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), authorize certain officers in local police and sheriff's departments to enforce federal immigration laws.
Immigrants' rights advocates have principally criticized 287(g) agreements by arguing that they pose a serious threat to public safety: After all, if the police are going to fight crime effectively, they need the public's trust and cooperation. And it's pretty hard to convince undocumented immigrants to report crimes and assist in investigations if there isn't a clear distinction between the local police and federal immigration officials. This is to say nothing of the fact that 287(g) agreements effectively commandeer limited state and local resources to enforce brutish federal immigration laws.
Now add this to the case against 287(g) agreements: The prospect of indefinite detention in county jails for people who are merely suspected of being undocumented immigrants. An article in this week's Independent Weekly reports on the nightmarish bureaucratic limbo that is the Wake County 287(g) program:
Of the 321 inmates processed by Wake County's 287(g) officers since the program began earlier this summer, 201 were held for possible deportation. ICE spokesmen couldn't say how many were kept in custody past the 48-hour deadline… Immigration attorney Ricardo Vasquez, who has a client he says has languished in ICE custody for more than 70 days, says the problem starts at Wake County jail. If ICE places a hold on a prisoner's release, the magistrate may not issue a bond even though it's required by law. And when a bond has been issued, those trying to post it may be told they can't because of the ICE detainer — even if the detainer has expired.
So we have documented cases of people being held in Wake County jail under no lawful authority whatsoever. This should be intolerable to anyone who thinks the government ought to follow its own laws, regardless of his or her position on U.S. immigration policy and enforcement. Whether similar problems are occurring in the other counties with 287(g) agreements needs to be investigated. However, the easiest, fastest, and most cost-effective way to solve this problem is to tell the feds they're on their own when it comes to enforcing ill-considered federal immigration policies.