They came after me because they knew I didn't mix with anyone and I went to church and to study. It was as if they saw that I was concentrated on doing something good with my life. My family is Christian and we follow the things of God. ... My mother had left for the U.S. when I was just a baby and I never had a father. Maybe that too is part of why they came for me, knowing there was no man in my family. All of the men in my family were deceased."
In the rural El Salvador village where he was born, Jairo Garcia del Cid could not escape the members of MS-13 hounding him, like so many others, to join their gang. They came to his house. They called his grandmother. One day, when he was seventeen, they stopped him on his way to school.
"There were several of them, all older and larger than me," Garcia del Cid wrote in a translated affidavit attesting to the danger he faced in El Salvador. "I knew they were MS because of their tattoos of calavera and the letters 'MS.' They asked me again why I wouldn't join them and when I told them no, that I didn't like the things they are doing and want more for my life they said, 'Then you had better get out of town and out of El Salvador.'"
He knew better than to not take them seriously. One week later, he left.
Garcia del Cid entered the United States in May 2016. He was given unaccompanied alien child status before being released to the custody of his grandmother. Once in Durham, he enrolled at Jordan High School with plans to apply for permanent asylum in the U.S. on the grounds that he had been persecuted in El Salvador because of his religious beliefs.
"In my church in El Salvador they said that we shouldn't get involved with the gangs. They told us we would end up in jail or dead," he wrote in the affidavit. "Now I am here in jail. I'm afraid to end up dead."
As of Wednesday, Garcia del Cid, a ninth grader who plays soccer and was making progress on his English, has been in jail ninety-eight days.
Garcia del Cid was arrested March 16—just six days after his eighteenth birthday—charged with larceny of a motor vehicle, and booked into the Durham County Detention Facility. Because of his age, clean record, and the time he had already served, the charge was dismissed April 5. But he remained in the Durham County jail for another two days because of a federal immigration program the Durham County Sheriff's Office insists it does not participate in.
Started in 2007, the Secure Communities program allows ICE to see who is being booked into jails nationwide, flag an inmate the agency believes may be subject to deportation, and ask the local jail to keep that person in custody for up to forty-eight hours after local charges have been resolved so that ICE can assume custody. An ICE spokesman confirmed to the INDY that such a request—known as an immigration detainer—was issued for Garcia del Cid. He has been in ICE custody since April 7, the day he left the Durham jail.
And yet: "The Sheriff's Office does not participate in Secure Communities or the Priority Enforcement Program. Instead, the agency shares its step-by-step process with the public," reads a Sheriff's Office flier titled "A Guide for Our Immigrant Neighbors." But this step-by-step process, which begins when someone is booked into the jail, is nearly identical to ICE's description of how Secure Communities works.
According to Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the Durham County jail has honored hundreds of detainers in the past. The facility received 1,167 detainer requests from October 2009 through November 2015, according to TRAC. In 484 cases, ICE assumed custody of the person after the detainer was issued.
Mike Andrews was appointed Durham County sheriff in early 2012. From October 2011 to November 2015, 649 detainer requests were sent to the jail; in 248 of those cases, ICE took custody of the individual. Both the number of detainer requests and instances in which ICE took custody have decreased over time.
"The Sheriff's Office maintains that the agency does not actively search for or arrest undocumented residents and has never done so under Sheriff [Mike] Andrews's administration," says spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs.
That may be true, but that's not what Secure Communities is about. And local immigration attorneys interviewed by the INDY say the Sheriff's Office continues to honor ICE detainer requests.
"We're also hearing from the local community that the jail is honoring ICE detainers," says Sejal Zota, an immigration attorney and member of the Durham Human Relations Commission.
Several judges across the country have ruled that ICE detainer requests are not mandatory. Still other rulings have found the practice in violation of the Fourth Amendment, because those being held aren't facing charges or imprisonment. By late 2014, nearly three hundred local jurisdictions had made it a policy to either refuse or—as in the case of the Orange County Sheriff's Office—limit cooperation with ICE detainers.
Consistently ignoring ICE detainers could draw the ire of North Carolina legislators, though. A 2015 law prohibits local governments from impeding collaboration between immigration officials, and local law enforcement and legislators are considering a measure that would withhold tax revenue from so-called sanctuary cities.
Further, the DCSO doesn't have much choice in sharing inmate information with the feds. Fingerprints taken at the jail are routinely sent to the state's database to check for outstanding charges. The state's index is linked with FBI records, and the FBI is federally mandated to share information with the Department of Homeland Security.
So why doesn't the Sheriff's Office just admit it participates in Secure Communities?
It has in the past. Gibbs is quoted twice in a February article by nonprofit news site Rewire saying the Sheriff's Office is a Secure Communities participant. The HRC, in a report on conditions and practices at the jail that was last updated in March, says Andrews made the same statement at an outreach meeting.
But asked last week how the procedures in place at the Durham jail do not constitute participation in Secure Communities, Gibbs stressed that the DCSO does not "actively participate" in the program and has provided the public with information on the fingerprinting procedures she shared with the INDY.
Beckie Moriello, an attorney who has worked with Garcia del Cid, says just two things changed to land him in ICE's sights and now the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia: he turned eighteen (the age limit for unaccompanied minor status) and was booked into the Durham jail.
"It all goes back to Durham turning him over," she says.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Cut the ICE"