Cover Story: Immigration enforcement changes?

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A controversial federal program that deports illegal immigrants tonight being credited with nabbing here in Charlotte one of America's Most Wanted.  But could the program itself being going away?

A man featured on America's Most Wanted captured here in Charlotte.

He's wanted on 51 felonies, he's a known gang member, and he's in this country illegally.

The federal immigration program that nabbed this guy, and is credited with keeping our communities safe... may be in jeopardy.

Police say James Victoria Jimenez has been setting up shop in Charlotte for quite some time.

According to America's Most Wanted -- Jimenez trolls hiring sites on the internet looking for day laborers and recruits thieves to join his crew.

Then he allegedly orders his recruits to hit up affluent neighborhoods.

He has at least a handful of aliases.

The way he was tracked -- through the 287-G program.  Now that program may be in question in Mecklenburg county.

Mecklenburg Sheriff Chipp Bailey says if he's forced to adopt all the new changes to 287(g) outlined in a new memorandum handed down from the feds.. he's not going to sign it.. and he's not alone.

Bailey has three months to work out a new deal with Immigration officials and the Department of Homeland Security.

He was featured on the TV show "America's Most Wanted" two years ago.

James Victoria Jimenez.. aka Pablo Castro.

A native of Colombia.. a known member of a transnational criminal network.

But he was in Charlotte this week.. police say robbing affluent homes.

When CMPD arrested him..

And he was booked into Mecklenburg Jail-Central.. it was discovered Pablo Castro was a dangerous fugitive who escaped from a state prison in New York.

"It makes us feel good in Charlotte.. in Mecklenburg county that we took somebody like this off the street," says Mecklenburg Sheriff Chipp Bailey.

But it might not have happened were it not for 287(g).

A federal program that lets officers in the Mecklenburg jail access Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) data base of illegal immigrants who've broken the law.

"287(g) more than earned its keep with this one guy," he says.

But criticism of how 287(g) has been carried out by some law enforcement agencies in other parts of the country has led the Obama Administration to make changes to the way it's run.

"There's pressure I know to reduce the amount of enforcement within 287(gi).

A new "Memorandum of Agreement" to be able to participate in the federal program was sent to Sheriff Bailey and other law enforcement agencies last week.

It requires for example the Mecklenburg sheriff's office assume costs of transportating illegal immigrants to deportation proceedings in Georgia.

Pick up costs of supplying illegal immigrant inmates with personal items the jail doesn't supply to the inmate population at large.

And pick up some of the costs associated with housing the undocumented individuals.

Bailey says about 10-15 percent of the Memorandum he can't agree to.. and won't sign.

Is it a way to gut 287(g)?  He doesn't know.

But no question.. he wants to keep the program if he can.

"What I want to do is to be able to continue to check individuals being brought into my jail and make sure that we know who they are.. what their danger presents.. if they're bad guys from somewhere else.. so that we can protect our people."

Bailey says because many illegal immigrants don't have paperwork and have many different aliases-- before 287(g) they had no way of knowing how violent and dangerous an arrestee was.. knowing his background helps them isolate who they have in custody..

And in the case this week.. nab one of America's Most Wanted.

What's going to happen? Is the sheriff going to sign it?

Not in its present form. There will be some going back and forth.

More than 7-thousand illegal immigrants who've been jailed have been placed into deportation proceedings since the program began here in Mecklenburg in 2006.