After North Carolina’s largest counties cut ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency said it’s been forced to adopt a “new normal”: one that resulted in the arrest of hundreds of immigrants living here illegally this week.
“This is the direct conclusion of dangerous policies of not cooperating with ICE,” said Sean Gallagher, who oversees the agency’s operation in the Carolinas and Georgia. “This forces my officers to go out onto the street to conduct more enforcement.”
Since December, newly elected sheriffs in the state’s two most populous counties — Mecklenburg and Wake — have reversed a policy that notifies ICE about the legal status of inmates in county jails. The Durham County Sheriff’s Office also ended the practice of honoring ICE detainers.
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“This is politics over public safety at its worst,” Gallagher said at a news conference Friday morning. It’s a change, he said, that gave the agency “no choice” but to conduct targeted enforcement operations like the one this week.
ICE officers detained 200 individuals in North Carolina alone from Monday through Thursday, in addition to another 25 in an unrelated raid on an arms manufacturing plant in Sanford.
Nearly one-third of those taken into custody this week are what the agency calls “collateral” arrests: immigrants who are living here illegally but lack any kind of criminal conviction or pending charges.
That figure was less than 10 percent for those arrested in the most recent fiscal year. Gallagher said a greater number of such arrests is likely when ICE is restricted from accessing county jails.
“If they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, my officers will take an enforcement action,” he said.
While the news conference took place inside a Department of Homeland Security office in south Charlotte, city council member
was threatened with arrest for trying to enter the building without media credentials, he said.
Speaking to reporters and activists outside the office, he said he was told by Robert Alfieri, an ICE official, that the arrests represent a “new normal” because Mecklenburg County’s new sheriff, Garry McFadden, is not cooperating with federal immigration enforcement.
Under the controversial 287(g) program, local deputies check a federal database to see if any inmates were in the country illegally. If they are, they hold inmates until ICE could detain them and begin deportation proceedings.
Of the 200 individuals arrested this week, one-quarter have criminal convictions, one-fifth have pending cases and another quarter have evaded deportation orders.