CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden doubled down on his pledge to not cooperate with US Immigration and Customs Officials at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
McFadden called the press conference in response to a visit from senior ICE officials, who came to Charlotte on Thursday to highlight the latest round of people they say are in the country illegally, were arrested on state charges and released by McFadden from the Mecklenburg County Jail despite a request from ICE they remain in custody.
Such a request is known as an ICE detainer, which is an administrative order requesting a person suspected of being in the country illegally and arrested for an underlying crime be held in jail for up to 48 hours until ICE can take the person into custody.
Since taking office, McFadden has implemented a policy that his office would not honor detainer requests from ICE or any other federal agency.
He reiterated that policy decision on Thursday, saying federal authorities should obtain a criminal arrest warrant if they want individuals to stay in custody.
But Tim Robbins, the Executive Association Director of ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, explained to reporters in Charlotte on Thursday that a detainer is the civil equivalent of a criminal warrant.
ICE officials issue a detainer, Robbins said, because the removal process is civil and does not involve criminal charges.
“He’s asking for a thing that does not exist,” Robbins told reporters of McFadden’s position that ICE officials should obtain a criminal warrant instead of issuing a civil detainer.
As Robbins spoke with reporters Thursday, he was flanked by posters showing the mug shots of five people he said are in the country illegally, arrested in Mecklenburg County on state charges and released by McFadden despite a detainer.
“At the end of the day, this is about community safety. This is about people who have already been arrested for a crime,” Robbins told reporters.
New data shows effect of ending participation in 287(g) program
McFadden was elected in 2018 on a platform that centered around ending the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office’s participation in a federal program known as 287(g).
The 287(g) program gives local law enforcement the ability to check someone’s immigration status and enforce a limited amount of immigration laws.
New data obtained by WBTV shows that program led to hundreds of people charged with crimes in Mecklenburg County being deported during the last year in which the county was a full participant.
According to the data, which was provided by ICE, 345 people who had been convicted or charged with crimes were removed from the country through the deportation process during fiscal year 2018, which runs from October 2017 through September 2018.
By comparison, just 64 people who had been charged or convicted of a crime were removed from the country through the deportation process during FY2019, which began in October 2018.
McFadden became sheriff in December of that year and immediately ended the program in his first official act as sheriff.
“It’s something that piques your ears, makes you want to actually wonder why a law enforcement officer wouldn’t want to work with you to make their community safer,” Robbins told WBTV in an interview following his press conference.
McFadden dodges questions about why he won’t notify ICE of inmate’s release
Outside of participating in the 287(g) program or honoring ICE detainers, Robbins said his office wishes McFadden would provide ICE officials a heads up when an inmate in the Mecklenburg County jail with an ICE detainer were going to be released.
“Many times we don’t know that criminal’s been released from custody until they re-offend,” Robbins said.
At his press conference Thursday, McFadden wouldn’t answer a WBTV reporter’s question about why he wouldn’t allow his staff to notify ICE about releasing inmates with detainers.
“Why don’t you just give them a call and say, ‘hey, we’re releasing this person from the detention center?’” a WBTV reporter asked.
“Why won’t ICE follow the law?” McFadden responded.
"How are they breaking the law?" the reporter asked.
“How am I breaking the law?” McFadden responded.
Ultimately, McFadden wouldn’t answer the question but did say a question like that might be resolved if he and ICE officials met and talked.
“This is when you sit down and talk to someone. This is when you come into town and say, ‘how can we help with that problem?’” McFadden said.
Similarly, Robbins said he was willing to meet with McFadden.
“I would sit down with the sheriff tomorrow,” Robbins told WBTV. “If there’s a way we can figure out how to stop the criminals from walking out their doors, into the communities, we will do whatever it takes.”