Commentary, immigration

Anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric is costing NC sheriffs their seats across the state

In case you missed it, voters in several North Carolina counties sent a strong signal this year that they don’t want local law enforcement to do the dirty work of enforcing the Trump Administration’s immigration agenda. Sheriffs elected in several counties have pledged to stop honoring immigration detainers and declared an end the controversial 287(g) program, which essentially makes local officers extensions of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

One anti-immigrant policy emerged as an important factor for voters in several sheriff races. The 287(g) program allows a local law enforcement agency to deputize some of their officers to act as immigration agents and to hand undocumented constituents over to ICE, even in circumstances when there has not been a conviction. This policy undermines trust between law enforcement and the community, which can result in less crime being reported due to a fear of deportation.

Voters in Mecklenburg County delivered a rebuke to the 287(g) program as Garry McFadden won over incumbent sheriff Irwin Carmichael, who defended the use of the anti-immigrant policy. During his time as sheriff, Carmichael re-signed the county’s 287(g) agreement and the total number of people processed for deportation through the program reached over 15,000. McFadden announced the end of the program this week.

In Wake County, Gerald Baker unseated longtime sheriff Donnie Harrison, who was running for his fifth term in office. Under Harrison’s leadership, Wake County became one of six counties in the state to participate in the 287(g) program. Harrison had been strongly criticized for choosing to participate in the 287(g) program that separates families and increases racial tensions in the community. In stark contrast, Sheriff-elect Baker pledged to end the partnership with ICE as soon as he takes office, a stance that clearly resonated with voters in Wake County.

Durham County saw a similar outcome in the primary race for sheriff as Clarence Birkhead ousted Mike Andrews. Birkhead, the first black sheriff of Durham County, pledged his office will not honor immigration detainers, which are requests to hold a detainee for up to 48 hours beyond the time they would have otherwise been released. ICE detainers requests are not obligatory and sheriffs have the option to honor or ignore an immigration detainer. Earlier this year, Andrews chose to publicly reject a request by community members to stop honoring ICE detainers. During Andrew’s time as a sheriff, Durham County honored thousands of ICE detainers.

Collectively, these results signal North Carolinians’ growing opposition to aggressive immigration enforcement policies emanating from Washington, and a refusal to see their local law enforcement used as pawns for the Trump Administration’s agenda.

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