After Donald Trump ascended to the presidency, largely on a platform of harsh immigration enforcement, he quickly escalated the controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement program known as 287(g).
The 287(g) program allows local ICE to cross-train and deputize law enforcement officers to question, arrest and jail people suspected of immigration violations. The program is already in place in about 60 jurisdictions in 18 states, and ICE is currently processing applications for 24 more.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has objected and sent a letter earlier this month to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties detailing issues in 14 sheriff’s offices that have applied to join the 287(g) program. The ACLU also is asking DHS to deny the applications and terminate the program.
Of the 14 troubled jurisdictions the ACLU examines in the letter, none is as egregious as Alamance County, North Carolina and its Sheriff Terry Johnson, pictured above.
In 2012, the Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit against Johnson, alleging that the sheriff’s department “routinely discriminates against and targets Latinos.” Alamance County was a member of the 287(g) program until September 2012, when Justice Department investigators publicly accused Johnson and his deputies of racially profiling Latino drivers. ICE subsequently terminated its agreement with the county.
Allegations levied at the sheriff’s department Johnson’s office include engaging “in substandard reporting and monitoring practices that mask its discriminatory conduct,” according to investigators. Additional findings include allegations of deputies targeting Latino drivers (investigators found the department was between four and 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers on major county roadways); in a 2007 staff meeting, Sheriff Johnson yelling “bring me some Mexicans” while banging his fists on a table; in a 2008 staff meeting, Johnson directed supervisors to tell their subordinates, “If you stop a Mexican, don’t write a citation, arrest him.”
A U.S. District Court judge dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice in 2015, but acknowledged, “The language, epithets and slurs used by some [sheriff’s department] officers, particularly in the ACDC [detention center], are abhorrent and, if not ended already, should cease immediately.”
The allegations against Johnson and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office echo those of another prominent 287(g) participant in the past, ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who voters ousted in 2016 and was subsequently convicted of contempt of court for disobeying a judge’s orders to stop racially profiling Latinos and detaining them solely on suspicion of their immigration status.
Arpaio once had more than 160 Maricopa County deputies trained in the 287(g) program; ICE terminated Arpaio’s 287(g) agreement in 2009 after the DOJ was investigating him for civil rights abuses, and ended the 287(g) program in Maricopa County jails in 2011.
“[The 287(g) program] gave [Arpaio] the authority to perpetuate these massive raids in communities of color,” says Arizona investigative journalist Terry Greene Sterling, author of Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona’s Immigration War Zone. ICE’s termination of the 287(g) agreement with Arpaio didn’t slow him down, either. “He was found to have racially profiled Latino drivers and passengers in Maricopa County, and some of that happened after the 287(g) was ended,” she says.
President Trump controversially pardoned Arpaio in August, after his conviction for defying the judge’s order to halt racial profiling in his department.
Besides Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, the ACLU highlighted civil rights issues with 13 other law enforcement jurisdictions currently applying to participate in the 287(g) program, in counties in Florida, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
“The costs of enmeshing local law enforcement agencies in the business of federal civil immigration enforcement far outweigh the benefits,” Chris Rickerd, policy counsel for the ACLU, wrote in his letter urging a full stop to the program. “When the public isn’t sure whether the police are there to protect or deport them, crimes don’t get reported and domestic violence survivors stay silent rather than calling 911.”
(Image: Alamance County, North Carolina Sheriff Terry Johnson; Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)