DOJ ends federal immigration program in Alamance County | North Carolina | Indy Week

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DOJ ends federal immigration program in Alamance County

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Blasted by federal investigators last week for racially profiling Latino drivers, the Alamance County Sheriff's Office has been tossed from the controversial 287(g) deportation program.

Hours after a U.S. Department of Justice report accused Alamance deputies and Sheriff Terry Johnson of biased policing, officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said they would immediately terminate 287(g) in the county.

The program extends limited federal immigration powers to local law enforcement, allowing them to process and begin deportation for suspected undocumented immigrants. Until the ICE decision, Alamance was one of six county sheriff's offices—including Wake County—in North Carolina using 287(g).

DOJ's decision comes one month after an Indy analysis of data found Latino drivers are twice as likely as non-Latinos to be arrested by Alamance deputies during traffic stops. The Indy report also noted Latino arrest rates in Alamance are far higher than in other North Carolina counties.

Proponents such as Johnson say 287(g) is necessary for local deputies to identify undocumented immigrants. However, critics say 287(g) encourages racial profiling. A 2009 report issued by the Government Accountability Office, an investigational arm of Congress, concluded that the program lacked adequate oversight and controls, making it difficult for ICE to ensure law enforcement agencies were using it correctly.

"The Department of Homeland Security is troubled by the [DOJ's] findings of discriminatory policing practices within the Alamance County Sheriff's Office," ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said in the statement. "Discrimination undermines law enforcement and erodes the public trust. DHS will not be a party to such practices."

Gonzalez added that, in addition to terminating 287(g) in Alamance, ICE will be "restricting their access to the Secure Communities program."

Secure Communities allows local law enforcement to run the fingerprints of jailed offenders through national immigration databases. If an offender is found to be in the country illegally, he or she is flagged for deportation by federal officials.

Alamance County Sheriff's Office spokesman Randy Jones offered little comment Tuesday, saying the matter is in the hands of county attorneys.

Jones said the office's 287(g) contract would have expired in October. He said he was unsure if Johnson planned to renew that contract, although Johnson has been a fervent advocate of 287(g) in the past.

Federal investigators have been scrutinizing the Alamance County Sheriff's Office for two years after receiving numerous complaints of deputies harassing Latino drivers and speeding deportation over minor traffic offenses.

Federal customs officials have directed law enforcement to focus their deportation efforts on violent criminals, rather than low-level traffic offenders.

Among the DOJ findings, the agency concluded Alamance deputies are targeting Latinos for traffic stops, installing checkpoints in Latino neighborhoods and changing their enforcement tactics based on the driver's ethnicity.

DOJ officials promised legal action if Johnson's office does not work with federal investigators to address the complaints.

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