The Alamance County Sheriff's Office Was Booted from a Federal Immigration Program Over Accusations of Discrimination. Now It Wants to Rejoin. | News

The Alamance County Sheriff's Office Was Booted from a Federal Immigration Program Over Accusations of Discrimination. Now It Wants to Rejoin.

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The Alamance County Sheriff's Office is seeking to rejoin a federal program that allows local law enforcement to carry out immigration enforcement duties—five years after it was removed from the program over accusations of discrimination.

The agency's involvement in the 287(g) program was terminated in 2012 as the U.S. Department of Justice investigated racial profiling at the Sheriff's Office. The DOJ filed a civil rights lawsuit saying the ACSO "routinely discriminates against and targets Latinos."

In 2015, a judge ruled in favor of Sheriff Terry Johnson. The DOJ appealed, and last year the agencies reached a settlement that called for the implementation of bias-free policing, citizen-complaint and data-collection policies. 
Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson
  • Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson

According to the Times-News of Burlington, Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked Johnson in the spring to rejoin 287(g). Johnson "immediately agreed."

Now, the ACLU of North Carolina is urging the Department of Homeland Security to deny the agency's application.

“Alamance County lost its 287(g) status for a reason. From ordering his deputies to ‘bring me some Mexicans’ to overseeing egregious patterns of racial profiling, Sheriff Johnson has a well-documented history of targeting the Latino community in Alamance County,” said ACLU of North Carolina Staff Attorney Irena Como. “No agency with such a terrible record of civil rights abuses should receive federal funds to further target residents for arrests, detention, and possibly deportation.”

The state ACLU sent a letter to Homeland Security on Tuesday outlining the findings of the DOJ investigation, "Alamance's discriminatory use of 287(g)," and Fourth Amendment violations committed by the agency through "impermissible checkpoints."

Over the summer, groups including the Alamance County Human Relations Commission, El Centro Hispano Inc., the NC NAACP, and Southeast Immigrant Rights Network signed on to an open letter asking Johnson not to rejoin the program, citing the "national spotlight" that came with the DOJ investigation.

Among the DOJ's findings: deputies were more likely to pull over Latino drivers, they regularly set up checkpoints near Latino neighborhoods, and they handed down harsher punishments to Latino motorists. The findings came shortly after an INDY analysis of Alamance County traffic stop data. Federal filings alleged instances of apparent racism and abuse of the 287(g) program, although the Sheriff's Office denied it engaged in discrimination and suggested the accusations were politically motivated.

According to the ACLU, the Trump administration (which previously called for an expansion of the 287(g) program) will soon begin considering applications from law enforcement agencies. If the ACSO is approved, it will join five North Carolina sheriff's departments in the program: Cabarrus, Gaston, Henderson, Mecklenburg, and Wake.

Johnson couldn't immediately be reached for comment, but he told the Times-News that, if accepted to the program, Alamance deputies will only assist ICE in the county detention center or if asked to participate in an ICE operation.

“We have never asked anybody, unless we’ve had to arrest them for something or they committed a crime, what their status is there,” Johnson told the paper. “I don’t really care. But if they commit a crime, we’re coming after them whether they’re American, Latino, Guatemalan, I don’t care. We’re going to work the case.”

ICE said it could not comment on pending 287(g) decisions.


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