Mecklenburg Sheriff defends 287g program, some think it unnecessary

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - On Tuesday Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael doubled down on his support of the 287g program at his jail. 287g is a voluntary federal program that detains jail inmates who are in the country illegally.

Jail officials say anyone who is arrested gets processed at the jail and asked whether he/she is a citizen of the United States and if born in the U.S. If records show someone is in the country illegally, jail officials say they put a detainer on that inmate and notify federal authorities.

"It allows me to identify exactly who is in our jail and who is in our community. We are talking about 12 years and nothing has changed in 12 years," said Sheriff Carmichael.

Mecklenburg County has been a part of the program since 2006. The sheriff says elected leaders and community members have been spreading false information about his department's involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

"For those spreading false information, leading to anger and fear, I urge you to stop it. All I ask everyone to do before they make a statement or comment is to come see what the program is," said Carmichael.

Sheriff Carmichael says his deputies do not conduct ICE operations and have never been a part of community roundups.

"We have never done that. The only way a person comes into contact with the 287g program is if they are arrested for breaking the law," said Carmichael.

However, many in the community believe the program is unnecessary and causing fear between community and police.

"It is a program that limits community trust with law enforcement," said Stefania Arteaga with the group Comunidad Colectiva.

Opponents say the program unfairly targets individuals that may be arrested for a misdemeanor crime but are then detained under this program.

"Someone that is accused of a crime is in danger of being deported without a chance of proving their innocence," said Oliver Merino with Comunidad Colectiva. "If a person commits or is accused of crime, we have system in place that holds that person accountable. 287g is not necessary for that."

"For me to listen to law enforcement act like the only people caught up in the program are serious criminals makes me angry because it is a lie," said Rebecca O'neill, an attorney with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.

WBTV requested data for 287g for the last two years. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 1,241 inmates in the Mecklenburg County jail encountered 287g in 2016. A spokesperson for ICE said 100 inmates were deported.

ICE data shows the numbers increased in 2017 when 1,306 inmates in the jail had their immigration status checked under 287g. The spokesperson said 288 inmates were deported or in the process of being deported. Numbers for 2018 were not available.

The sheriff was asked of the nearly 15,000 inmates who have been processed for deportation how many were accused of misdemeanor crimes. The sheriff did not have those numbers.

"The sheriff is not disclosing the number and the statistics about who is being apprehended and under what circumstance. Also, who is ultimately being deported," said Merino.

A letter, signed by more than 30 local, state and national organizations will be sent to the sheriff demanding he end the program.

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