The historic Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids this week were not a fluke — they were a direct result of refusals in urban North Carolina counties, like Mecklenburg, Wake, Orange and Durham counties, to work with the federal agency.
ICE Atlanta field office Director Sean Gallagher told reporters Friday morning that the more than 200 people arrested this week across the state is “the new normal.” He said specifically that the decisions in Mecklenburg, Wake and Durham counties to end their 287g programs — a voluntary partnership to help ICE with immigration enforcement — led to agents having to actively seek undocumented immigrants there.
“This is politics over public safety at its worst,” he said at the press conference, which was reported on by several media outlets across the state, including the Charlotte Observer.
Durham Sheriff Clarence Birkhead and Wake Sheriff Gerald Baker could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden said ending 287g, which he did on the first day he took office, was not political for him. He’s passionate about fighting for the people who can’t fight for themselves.
“The problem with ICE is they want to make it seem like I don’t want to prosecute crimes,” he said, explaining how his law enforcement background contradicts that (he worked homicide cases for 22 years).
McFadden said he believes ICE’s actions this week have been in response to his agency sending them new policies and procedures in the wake of ending their 287g agreement.
“People are still being arrested for crimes,” he said. “I just choose not to come and work with you.”
ICE agents are still welcome in Mecklenburg’s detention center, and they still have access to the information local law enforcement has access to, but McFadden said he’s not going to have his employees do the federal agencies job for them by housing undocumented immigrants who are otherwise supposed to be released.
He pointed out that he doesn’t have anything to do with releasing someone from a facility — bail is set by judges, magistrates and prosecutors.
ICE held the press conference in McFadden’s county while he was attending a conference in Washington D.C. He said it was meant to get people into an uproar, but he will continue to stand firm.
“They’re scared for somebody to stand up who knows the law and knows their job,” he said of ICE. “I have something they want, and they’re trying to make me play in their sandbox, and I don’t want to play.”
His office also implemented a policy requesting ICE notify them when they show up at the county courthouse so that deputies could monitor their actions. That was done after some ICE agents came into the courthouse, hid their badges and pulled hoodies over their head and mingled in a hallway until a defendant they were looking for came out of a courtroom. The defendant was wearing a suit and tie and was bombarded by the agents, who didn’t identify themselves until they were asked several times who they were.
McFadden said he has no qualms with helping ICE when they are protecting all communities from violent crimes at all levels without targeting just one demographic. He’s focused on reform, and he will continue to stand for change for future generations regardless of ICE’s apparent retaliation.
“In order to be different, in order to bring justice, in order to bring awareness – and it’s something all great leaders have done – you have to stand firm, you have to take the beatings,” he said.
And there could be more ‘beatings’ to come. Gallagher said ICE will continue their enforcement efforts and won’t turn a blind eye to other undocumented family members or friends in the wrong place at the wrong time during targeted operations. He said they conduct operations at courthouses, during traffic stops and at the homes of people they believed to be undocumented immigrants.
Until the press conference Friday, ICE officials had refused to give any specific information about the raids being reported across the state. The raids, according to Gallagher, were unrelated to the undocumented individuals arrested at a gun manufacturing plant Tuesday in Sanford.
Of at least 200 of the other immigrants ICE arrested this week, nearly one-third taken into custody are what the agency calls “collateral:” immigrants who are living here illegally but lack any kind of criminal conviction or pending charges, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Gallagher said 50 of those 200 taken into custody had prior criminal convictions — though he did not say for what types of crimes — and 40 had pending criminal charges. Another 50, he added, had re-entered the country illegally after a prior deportation. About 60 were individuals who weren’t targeted but who were in the vicinity during raids.
Another urban area he criticized in the press conference was Orange county, although Sheriff Charles Blackwood doesn’t really understand why — they never participated in a 287g program. He said ICE is going to do their job, and the only thing Orange County won’t do is honor their detainers, because they don’t have the authority to enforce federal law.
Detainers are documents that essentially ask local sheriffs and jails to hold on to undocumented immigrants for ICE even if they’re supposed to be released on the local level. The documents aren’t orders and they’re not signed by judges — they are requests from ICE.
Blackwood said ICE is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the country and have plenty of people to do their work without asking sheriff’s and counties do their jobs for them.
McFadden said there are still a number of ways in which his agency works with ICE, including sharing fingerprints, honoring criminal warrants signed by judicial officials, verifying individuals’ legal status for felonies and impaired driving offenses and notifying the federal agency about criminal ICE warrants.
Gallagher’s insinuation, he said in a release, that dangerous people were walking out of jails because of the end of 287g programs is engaging in cynical fear mongering. In a phone interview, he compared ICE’s press conference to a gnat, and said he would still go about doing his job the way it needed to be done without being bothered by it.
“I’m still going to eat, but every now and then you have to shoo a gnat away,” he said. He added later, “This fight is not for everybody but I’m here to stay.”