Guilford County Sheriff’s Office drops 287(g) program

by Jordan Green



The Guilford County Sheriff’s Office holds a unique position among nine agencies that have been signed on to the controversial 287(g) federal immigration enforcement program this year: Only eight people have been deported through the program since Jan. 1.


In comparison, neighboring Alamance County has deported 293. The state’s two most populous counties, Mecklenburg and Wake, has respectively deported 2,037 and 1,703. Durham has deported 44. The Guilford County Sheriff’s Offices and the Durham Police Department are the only local agencies in North Carolina that have utilized the limited task force model rather than the more sweeping jail enforcement model.


“We feel, quite frankly, that the [Guilford County] Sheriff’s Department has shown great restraint and does not appear to be aggressively engaged in any activities that can be described as abusive,” said the Rev. Mark Sills, a Greensboro nonprofit executive who engaged in a terse public dialogue with Sheriff BJ Barnes when the law enforcement agency was preparing to implement the program in the spring of 2009. “But mostly because of the surrounding counties and how the enforcement programs have been implemented there, the immigrant community is still very leery of how law enforcement interacts with immigrants.”


Ironically, deportations prompted by local arrests could be on the cusp of an increase in Guilford County, as the sheriff’s office drops the controversial — and voluntary — 287(g) program, and adopts the federally-mandated Secure Communities program.

Barnes confirmed that the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office withdrew its 287(g) agreement in November.

Under 287(g), Barnes said two of his deputies received training and certification from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. They were able to access a federal database and file immigration charges against people found to have illegally entered the country or overstayed visas. Barnes said his federally certified deputies had focused on “criminal homicide suspects, rape suspects and major drug suspects.”

With the transition, the two deputies will remain engaged in investigating serious felonies, but will relinquish their immigration enforcement responsibilities to ICE. Now, information about all persons processed into the Guilford County Jail is run through national database that automatically alerts federal immigration officials when someone is identified as being in the country illegally. The feds then have the option to placing a detainer on the inmate and initiating deportation proceedings.

Barnes said his agency was one of 20 that was enrolled in the Secure Communities program last month. The feds plan to extend the program nationwide by 2013. Barnes confirmed that Secure Communities is likely to cast a wider net than 287(g) under the limited task force model utilized by the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office.

“You’ll see the numbers go up here with Secure Communities,” he said.