Misdemeanor offenders among Guilford County deportees

by Jordan Green

Greensboro Police Officer FW Carter arrested 21-year-old Salvador Negrota on April 28 for shoplifting after a loss prevention officer at Wal- Mart Supercenter No. 5320 in south Greensboro accused the young man of concealing three packages of shrimp valued at more than $50. Negrota, who is now in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, painted houses with his uncle, according to court documents that also showed that his monthly expenses included $130 for rent and utilities and $50 for hospital bills. They shared a house with one or two other men on Sykes Boulevard in a leafy but modest section of east Greensboro, and got along well with their neighbors until Curl Rentals brought a sheriff’s deputy out in mid-April to enforce an eviction order.

“They’re real good neighbors,” said George Ruffin, who rents a house from Curl Rentals next door. “They loved to work. They ain’t dangerous; they just as calm as a tick.” Then, he clarified, “Well, a tick will bother you, but you get my point,” adding that one of the older men in the household had become a regular churchgoer. Ruffin seemed unsurprised to learn that Negrota had been arrested for shoplifting. “The little one, he used to walk through the backyard and take all this stuff in,” he said. It was not Negrota’s first brush with the law. He had been arrested on Jan. 17 for stealing cologne from Kohl’s, and was released on the same day on a written promise to appear. Despite the fact that his first appearance was scheduled for a day in March, the courts issued an order for arrest against Negrota in February. Within a week of Negrota’s arrest in April, he would be in federal custody. Court records show that Negrota’s bond was set at $500, an amount higher than recommended for his offense, for the extraordinary reason that the defendant could produce no identification. Before he was booked in the Guilford County Jail in Greensboro, the Guilford County Sheriffs Office submitted an Immigration Alien Query to ICE’s Law Enforcement Support Center. An immigration judge in Charlotte had ordered Negrota’s deportation in March, and the next morning an ICE official from Charlotte faxed an immigration detainer to the sheriff’s office ordering them to hold him for 48 hours, not counting the weekend, to allow the feds time to take custody of the young man. “It clearly violates the intent of Congress,” said Marty Rosenbluth, an immigration lawyer from Hillsborough who represents clients across the state. “Congress has clearly said that these cooperative agreements between local law enforcement and ICE are supposed to target dangerous felons.” A US Government Accountability Office released in January faulted ICE for using the controversial 287(g) program “to process individuals for minor crimes, such as speeding, contrary to the objective of the program.” The report also noted that “ICE officials stated that the objective of the program is to address serious crime, such as narcotics smuggling committed by removable aliens; however, ICE has not documented this objective in program materials. Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes has acknowledged that his office, which does not hold a 287(g) agreement with ICE, checks the immigration status of all detainees who cannot confirm their identity through valid legal documents, exceeding the requirements of North Carolina’s legal status of prisoners law, which went into effect in 2008. Rosenbluth called Barnes’ policy “voluntary and arbitrary.” Negrota appeared before Judge Patrice Hinnant in an orange jail-issued jumpsuit by video teleconference on the same day the detainer was issued against him. The prosecutor said ICE had a detainer for Negrota, and the judge certified Negrota’s charges, bond amount and his next scheduled appearance. “He had an immigration hold, and we rescheduled his casefor May 1,” said Wheaton Casey, who heads pre-trial services forGuilford County Courts. “It was minor charges, so we try to move thosecases pretty fast.” At Negrota’s May 1 trial, another judge sentencedhim to time served for one misdemeanor larceny charge, and the DistrictAttorney’s office dismissed a second misdemeanor larceny charge and themisdemeanor shoplifting charge.

“It was, ‘Judge, we don’tobject to time served because we are informed that he has a detainerfrom ICE on him,’” Assistant District Attorney Tom Carruthers recalled. “The only thing the state could do is keep him in jail longerand then turn him over to ICE.” The sheriff’s office notified ICE afterthe trial that Negrota’s state charges had been disposed on May 1, aFriday, and the following Monday, the defendant was handed over to thefeds. “When we’re finished with him in Guilford County we have tonotify them,” said Maj. Debora Montgomery, court services bureaucommander for the sheriff’s office. “They acknowledge that they’vereceived notice, and that’s when the 48 hours begins.” Becauseof overcrowded conditions in Guilford County detention facilities,Chief Deputy Randy Powers said Guilford County Sheriff’s Office holdsfederal prisoners for only five days. The next stop for deportees fromthe county is often the Alamance County Jail, which is under contractwith ICE to hold federal detainees. An agency spokesman confirmed onMonday that Negrota was being held at the Stewart Detention Center, anICE facility in south Georgia administered by Corrections Corporationof America, a publicly held company with shares on the New York StockExchange. ICE has issued 24 immigration detainers againstdetainees awaiting trial in Guilford County in the past 30 days, andtaken custody of at least 10, according to information provided by thesheriff’s office. The records indicate that almost 80 percentof the 50 detainees in custody as of May 15 and flagged for deportationby ICE face felony charges, including trafficking cocaine, assault bystrangulation and statutory rape. Nine detainees, or 18.4 percent ofthe total, were being held for misdemeanors, including failure toappear in court and public intoxication. One man, 31-yearold ArmandoQuintero Fernandez of Thomasville, was arrested by the High PointPolice Department for driving while license revoked, a traffic offense. “Very few people would argue that a murderer or drugtrafficker, if they’re in the US illegally, should be released backinto the community and not deported after they have completed theirsentence,” Rosenbluth said. That’s the purpose of 287(g) and a relatedprogram called Secure Communities, he said, adding, “This wasn’tintended to cover people who are arrested for misdemeanor shoplifting.” The vast majority of the detainees are men ranging in age from18 to 48, almost half of whom were initially arrested by the GreensboroPolice Department. About a third were picked up by the Guilford CountySheriff’s Office, and more than a fifth were ensnared by the High PointPolice Department. One, 30-year-old Misael Garcia Espindola, wasarrested by the UNCG Police for no operators license and other relatedmisdemeanors. The group includes only two women. One of them,21-year-old Alheli Ramirez Chavez of Greensboro, was arrested by aGreensboro police officer on April 30 for failure to appear in courtand for resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer, bothmisdemeanors.

Most of the detainersissued by ICE against people currently in the custody of the GuilfordCounty Sheriff’s Office are identified as Mexican, but Guatemala, ElSalvador and Laos are also represented.

Theyinclude 19-year-old William Javier Revas-Rodriguez, arrested formisdemeanor breaking and entering, who faces deportation to ElSalvador, and 29-year-old Eleazar Quevado Pena, arrested for publicintoxication, who faces deportation to Mexico.