The federal 287(g) program, which deputizes local police to carry out some immigration-enforcement duties, is often touted by participating jurisdictions as a way to make communities safer. But that hasn't been the case in North Carolina counties that are part of the program, according to a new study by the libertarian Cato Institute.
The assessment is particularly relevant now, as the Nash County Sheriff's Office just became the sixth local agency in North Carolina to join the program, and Alamance County is seeking to rejoin it amid a push by the Trump administration to bring more local police forces into the fold. ICE currently has 287(g) agreements with seventy-six law enforcement agencies in twenty states.
The study looked at crime rates from 2003–13 for Alamance, Cabarrus, Cumberland, Gaston, Henderson, Mecklenburg, Wake, and Guilford counties and the city of Durham, which all participated in some iteration of 287(g) during those years.
Since then, the Cumberland and Guilford County sheriff's offices and the Durham Police Department have ended their agreements with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Alamance's 287(g) agreement with ICE was terminated in 2012 amid a Department of Justice investigation into allegations of racial profiling.
According to the report, 19,270 people were deported via the 287(g) programs in those places during that timeframe. Still, the analysis found that 287(g) participation had no effect on crime rates.
"If North Carolina's experience with 287(g) is any guide, signing up for the program won't help you reduce local crime," says Cato Institute immigration policy analyst Alex Nowrasteh.
On the other hand, jurisdictions with 287(g) did have significantly more assaults on officers. Nowrasteh says it's unclear what's driving that increase because the crime data the Cato Institute received contained no details on the assaults or who committed them.
"Besides otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants who are deported as a result of 287(g) and their American friends, families, consumers, employers, and landlords, police officers in North Carolina also appear to be victims of this program that fails to reduce crime," Nowrasteh says.
Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson expressed an interest in rejoining the program last year.
According to documents obtained by the INDY, Johnson wants to train eight deputies at the county jail under 287(g). Those deputies would be able to identify, interview, and issue immigration detainers for people in custody.
"As sheriff of Alamance County, North Carolina, I am concerned about the potential threat posed to the citizens of Alamance County and our nation by those criminal illegal aliens that choose to victimize our citizens," Johnson wrote in a March 2017 letter to ICE director Thomas Homan. "Having been involved previously in the 287(g) Delegation of Authority Program, I found it to be one of the best law-enforcement programs I have ever been involved with during my forty-five years in law enforcement. The program allowed us to curb criminal activity in our county and help ensure the safety of all our citizens."
It's unclear what the status of the agency's application is. Alamance officials didn't respond to questions for this story, and an ICE spokesperson said, "We can't speak to any potential pending partners." In an interview with Spectrum News last month, Johnson said his deputies wouldn't be "going out looking for undocumented people to put in jail."
Johnson's letter suggests he is interested in holding people for ICE longer than 287(g) would permit.
Under 287(g), participating officers can issue what's called an immigration detainer (or ICE hold) for someone in custody they believe may be subject to deportation. Without 287(g), ICE may send a local jail a detainer request, asking the facility to hold a person for up to forty-eight hours beyond when he or she would have otherwise been released. The same time limit applies when a local 287(g) officer initiates the hold.
Multiple courts have ruled that holding a person under a detainer amounts to a new arrest and that the administrative warrants that come with the requests don't amount to probable cause for an arrest under the Fourth Amendment.
In the letter to Homan, Johnson says he is "prepared to commit whatever is needed to develop and maintain the detention model program and even be over a seventy-two-hours holding facility."
In that last line, it's likely Johnson is referring to signing an intergovernmental service agreement with ICE, in which the Alamance jail would hold people for ICE and—unlike under 287(g)—be reimbursed for housing them. The ACSO previously had such an agreement with ICE for about four months in 2007, during which time it was reimbursed $61 per detainee per day.
More and more local agencies have been signing both 287(g) and intergovernmental service agreements. Economically, it makes sense. But the combination has watchdogs worried because it allows local law-enforcement officers to sign an administrative warrant (without any judicial oversight) attesting that the person is deportable, hold that person beyond the time a detainer request would allow him or her to be held, and get paid to do it.
"It's a big incentive for them to have all of it just in one place," says Joshua Breisblatt, senior policy analyst for the American Immigration Council.