Latino advocates alarmed by sheriff’s talk

by Jordan Green

Sheriff BJ Barnes, considered by someto be the most powerful Republicanpolitician in Guilford County, has foundhimself at odds with a black-Latinocoalition led by clergy and lawyers overhis plans to implement the controversial287(g) program, which delegates federalimmigration enforcement authority tolocal deputies.Meanwhile, the Obama administrationis reviewing the program for possiblecivil rights violations, as members ofCongress, including Rep. David Price, theDemocrat who represents parts of theTriangle, demand stronger guidelines andaccountability.

Barnes’ description of his plans forimmigration enforcement in an exchangeof letters and his appearance at two publicforums has raised suspicion among someimmigrant advocates who fear that thesheriff is attempting to intimidate Latinoimmigrants, stir up political support fora run for higher office (if the 78-year-oldHoward Coble decides to step down nextyear, Barnes would be eligible to run forhis seat), or both.Barnes has argued that his reasons forpursuing a jail-enforcement model of287(g) are speed and efficiency, and thathe is already required by state law toascertain the immigration status of pretrialdetainees in Guilford County Jail.(YES! Weekly incorrectly reported on April8 that a state law passed in 2007 requiresjail administrators to determined whetherall prisoners are legal residents.)“As keeper of the jail, I am required bylaw to identify someone in our jail todetermine if they are a legal resident ofthe United States,” Barnes said in an April 13 letter to the Guilford County Coalitionfor Just Laws and Peace Among Streetorganizations. Marty Rosenbluth, an immigrationlawyer with the Southern Coalition forSocial Justice in Durham, heaped scornon that assertion during a bilingualmeeting at New Light Missionary BaptistChurch in Greensboro to devise strategiesfor blocking aggressive immigrationenforcement.“You only have to read the first sentenceof the statute to know that the sheriffdoesn’t understand the state law,”Rosenbluth said.The statute reads, “When any personcharged with a felony or an impaireddriving offense is confined for any periodin a county jail, local confinement facility,district confinement facility or satellitejail/work unit, the administrator or otherperson in charge of the facility shallattempt to determine if the prisoner isa legal resident of the United States byinquiry of the prisoner, or by examinationof any relevant documents.”Barnes backed away from his assertionthat the law required wholesale identitychecks of detainees, but said he considersit a responsibility of his job as the county’stop law enforcement officer.“If you come in with no identificationwhatsoever, how do I know that you’re notthe Craigslist killer, how do I know you’renot wanted in some other state?” he said. “My job requires me to identify people inmy jail who have no identification.”At one point he described the peoplein his jail whose immigration status issubject to question “as people who havecommitted crimes.”When it was pointed out that many ofthem have not been convicted and enjoythe presumption of innocence, Barnesacceded, “That’s true, but they have beenadjudicated by a magistrate to showprobable cause that they have committeda crime.”Barnes statement echoes talking pointscreated by the NC Sheriff’s Association,which assume the guilt of pre-trialdetainees before they have been convictedof a crime. A PowerPoint presentationcreated by the association says of the287(g) jail enforcement model: “It onlyapplies to criminals who also happen to beillegal aliens.” “What I can’t deal with is the fact that, if Ihave people who have committed crimesand I don’t know their identity I have tomake sure they are not a mass murderer,not a mass rapist, not wanted in anotherstate,” Barnes said. “If it comes up that theyhappen to be illegal at the same time, thenI have to report that.” At least two “Click It or Ticket”checkpoints have taken place so far this month in Greensboro, according to reports by immigrant rights activists and confirmation by the sheriff’s office. Onewas spotted at the intersection of Freeman Mill Road and ColiseumBoulevard, and another reportedly took place on Aycock Street, bothareas being among the most multiethnic in the city. The Rev. MarkSills, executive director of FaithAction International, suggested in ane-mail to fellow activists that, whether intended or not, thecheckpoints have cast a shadow of fear across the Latino community. “Mywife teaches GED classes to immigrant women at Randolph CommunityCollege in Asheboro,” Sills wrote. “She has heard a number of thesewomen talking together about ‘not going to Greensboro to shop’ anymoreas a result of their fear of the sheriff’s department checkpoints.” Rosenbluthtold the group at New Light Missionary Baptist Church on April 20 that287(g) and other programs like it are inherently flawed. “Thepressure that needs to be applied is to make sure that people are notarrested solely so that their immigration status can be checked,” hesaid. “This is where the racial profiling aspect comes in. I can prettymuch guarantee that if I’m driving through Alamance County or I’mdriving through Wake County and I’m having one of those days where Ileft my wallet at home — it happens from time to time — if I’m pulledover, they are not going to arrest Marty Rosenbluth, and bring me intojail and fingerprint me for driving without a license.” Evenas the Guilford County Coalition for Just Laws and Peace Among StreetOrganizations has urged Barnes to delay implementation of 287(g),Rosenbluth has argued that the sheriff is either mistaken or bluffing,and that what he’s really pursuing is a similar ICE program calledSecure Communities. “Officers undergo a four-to-six weektraining period,” Rosenbluth said, explaining 287(g). “They’re trainedin constitutional law, they’re trained in immigration law. They have tohave a written certification. What first got me suspicious that thiswasn’t 287(g) was when the sheriff said that the only training hisofficers receive is how to use the fingerprinting machine.” Barnessaid he absolutely is pursuing the 287(g) program. “They already knowhow to use the fingerprint machine,” he said of his deputies. “Theyreceive the four-weeks training. They would also receive certificationas an ICE officer to access the ICE database.” In early April Barnes told YES! Weekly thatthe reason he had not finalized a memorandum of agreement with ICE toimplement the 287(g) program was because he was uncomfortable withpressure from ICE to design an aggressive program would search outLatinos. But sources in the federal government suggest that thehesitation is on the other end. In January, the GovernmentAccountability Office released a critical report, which found that inmore than half of 29 local programs reviewed community members raisedconcern about whether 287(g) would lead to racial profiling, andinconsistencies in memoranda of agreement have led to wide variationsbetween the various local programs Julio Cesar Mora, 19,testified before a joint congressional hearing on April 2 that earlierthis year he and his father were stopped in Phoenix by officers who helater learned were deputies of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office,which holds a 287(g) memoranda of agreement. Mora had been on his wayto drop his father off at his job at Handyman Maintenance, a companythat holds landscaping contracts for government buildings. Mora saidthe two were taken to his father’s workplace, where numerous detaineeswere lined up and held by officers in black uniforms with the word SWATwritten on them and wearing masks over their faces. “I got upthe courage to ask one of the officers if I could please leave becauseI didn’t work at HMI,” Mora said. “He told me no. When I got to thefront of the line, the same officer asked me if I was a US citizen. Isaid I was born here, and gave him my name and social security number.They checked me out on their computer, and finally they let me go,almost three hours after it all began. They let my dad go too becausehe has had his green card since 1976. “To this day, I don’t know whythe officers stopped us out of all the cars on the road,” Mora said.“Maybe it’s because of the Campesina radio station sticker on ourbumper or maybe it’s because my dad was wearing his Mexcian tejana and they thought we were illegal. But they never bothered to ask us.I don’t think it’s fair the way we were treated.” Spokesman MattChandler said the Department of Homeland Security is undertaking abroad review of programs and policies, “and 287(g) is part of that.It’s an opportunity to address any previous allegations of civil rightsabuses, and a natural step in the transition process.” Headded that the agency is “redrafting the template that is used fordrafting memoranda of agreements” and will “make sure all partneragencies are held to identical standards.” The last time ICEenrolled a new local partner in the 287(g) program was last September.A congressional source who had been briefed on the matter said that theObama administration has placed a moratorium on new programs untilnecessary improvements are made. Critics have also noted that theGovernment Accountability Office found that although ICE officialsclaimed at the outset of the program that its objective was to addressserious crimes such as drug trafficking, the agency has not documentedthat objective in program materials, and some local partners have usedthe program “to process individuals for minor crimes, such as speeding,contrary to the objective of the program.” Rep. Price noted in his opening statement for another hearing held inearly April that ICE broke records last year for the number of peopleit deported and the numbers held in detention. But dangerousnarco-traffickers aren’t exactly the profile of the immigrants gettingswept up in the ICE dragnet. Since 2002, Price said, deportation ofnon-criminals has exploded by 400 percent, while criminal deportationshave increased only 60 percent.

Thebill governing this year’s funding for the 287(g) program sets aside $5million for compliance reviews conducted by ICE’s Office ofProfessional Responsibility. The spending bill stipulates that“ICE is strongly encouraged to prioritize new 287(g) agreements thatwill maximize the identification and removal of deportable criminalaliens.” Even as questions have arisen about 287(g), thesimilar Secure Communities has both won support and inspired dread.Much like the jail enforcement model of 287(g), under SecureCommunities, local officers take the fingerprints of all people bookedin jail and run them simultaneously through the FBI’s IAFIS databaseand Homeland Security’s IDENT database. ICE is automatically notifiedof a detainee’s previous convictions and immigration record. Allsheriff offices currently have the FBI database, but many do not havethe one created by Homeland Security.

Carlos Venturella,executive director of Secure Communities told Price’s committee: “We’reable to classify those individuals based on the severity of theircrimes, and we’re also able to determine which are foreign born andwhich aren’t.

We never had that ability before. We relied onlocal law enforcement to make the referrals or to have ICE officers inthose facilities to encounter those individuals.” Twelve outof the 48 Secure Communities programs are located in North Carolina,where it has gotten a boost from the NC Sheriff’s Association’s IllegalImmigration Project, which received $600,000 in funding from the NCGeneral Assembly through the Governor’s Crime Commission. The sheriff’sassociation reported to the NC General Assembly that they had“developed and proposed an action plan to ICE for a one-yearimplementation schedule for Secure Communities in North Carolina,”outpacing the rest of the nation by two and a half years.

“Weoffered the state as a test site,” said Tony Queen, director of specialprojects for the NC Sheriff’s Association, adding that because AttorneyGeneral Roy Cooper upgraded the state’s IAFIS system, “we have thenation’s latest and best statewide system, so it only makes sense thatNorth Carolina would be chosen as a pilot project.” Theprogram’s foes in North Carolina see an opportunity. “The strategy Ithink we have to adopt,” Rosenbluth said, “is to demand accountabilityfrom the sheriff’s office and from ICE to make sure that the SecureCommunities program is being enforced the way it is intended, to takedangerous criminals off the street rather than people who are drivingwithout a license…. We already know the dangers of 287(g). We can starthere to make sure the same mistakes are not made under SecureCommunities.”