By Andrew Soboeiro
When most people picture deportations, they imagine ICE and other Federal agencies rounding up immigrants and sending them out of the country. But ICE lacks the numbers to do much deporting on its own, and thus needs to enlist the cooperation of local law enforcement agencies. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina is one such agency. Despite having an official policy that forbids asking arrestees about their immigration status, the Charlotte police participate in an ICE program that gathers data on all immigrants they arrest. This controversial policy has led to hundreds of deportations, and recently came under fire for creating a rift between Charlotte police officers and the people they protect.
Guide to 287(g)
Section 287(g) is a program that encourages local police to share data on immigrants they apprehend. Authorized under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, it lets Federal immigration officials delegate authority to local law enforcement agencies. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has participated in this program since 2006. Whenever it arrests someone, it asks them if they are a US citizen and if they were born in the United States. If it finds evidence they are undocumented, it detains them and contacts Federal authorities. The Charlotte police have processed more than 15,000 people in this way and deported hundreds; in 2017 alone, it put 288 people on the path to deportation.
Charlotte’s participation in 287(g) was controversial from the start, but it has attracted particularly strong criticism lately. In light of ICE’s recent raids and the broader anti-immigrant attitude of the Trump Administration, many Charlotteans have argued that their city should not be participating in this initiative. Critics claim it makes immigrants unwilling to cooperate with the police, thereby undermining public safety. Many also believe it violates due process and encourages unfair treatment of arrestees, pointing out that even teenage immigrants have been detained for months as a result of this program.
Despite these negative effects, 287(g) still has its defenders, including Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael. He believes that the program helps police identify dangerous fugitives who would otherwise fly under the radar. Carmichael is also skeptical of the claim that 287(g) prevents the community from trusting and cooperating with law enforcement, pointing out that local police chiefs have not reported any such problems. Overall, he thinks Charlotte has gained far more than it has lost by cooperating with ICE.
A Choice for Charlotte
Although city council members and other authorities have criticized 287(g), only the Mecklenburg County Sheriff has the authority to end it. Thus as long as Carmichael holds this title, Charlotte will remain in the program. But Charlotteans have the opportunity to vote him out this May. Carmichael is a Democrat, and both of his rivals in the Democratic primary oppose the program. If Democrats unify around one of these candidates in May and then turn out for them in the general election this fall, they can stop this divisive program and reestablish Charlotte’s support for immigrant rights.