Eleven people in North Carolina have been released from jail after the Durham County Sheriff’s Office announced they would no longer collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by detaining undocumented immigrants for the agency. ICE, in return, has threatened an increase in deportation raids because of the decision.
Just after Sheriff Clarence Birkhead was sworn in on December 6, he directed his office to abandon the controversial policy of honoring ICE’s 287(g) detainer requests, according to the Herald Sun.
The 287(g) detainer program is used by ICE to keep undocumented immigrants in jail based on their immigration status alone. A typical detainer request asks that a local jailer or some other law enforcement official detain an individual suspected of an immigration violation for an additional 48 hours–after they should have already been released by authorities–so that ICE agents have time to show up and take them into custody.
Several jurisdictions have ended their cooperation with ICE on this program in recent years as the Trump administration has attempted to step up and politicize interior removal operations.
The Sheriff’s directive went into effect on Thursday, December 6. It advises staff that absent of a court order or arrest warrant signed by a judicial official, any person who has had their criminal charges disposed of or who has made bond will not be held beyond the normal timetable for release.
That same release notes that “[u]nder the new policy, nine individuals were released after posting bond and two after serving their sentence.”
Birkhead had vigorously campaigned on the pledge to end Durham County’s friendly relations with ICE.
“I will make a clear and uncompromising commitment to not cooperate with ICE,” then-candidate Birkhead told the Indy Week. “As sheriff, I will not honor ICE detainers and we will not participate in ICE roundups.”
Birkhead reaffirmed his decision in a recent interview with the local CBS affiliate.
“There’s no mandate for me as a local sheriff, or if I were a local chief of police, to participate with this program,” he said. “It’s not a good expenditure of our county resources. It’s not something that I philosophically want to do and rip families apart.”
Birkhead’s decision puts him in league with other sheriffs from populous North Carolina counties like Wake and Mecklenburg in rejecting ICE’s 287(g) program.
ICE, for their part, isn’t very happy.
In an email sent to CBS17, ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox railed against the decision.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) places detainers on individuals who have been arrested on local criminal charges and who are suspected of being deportable, so that ICE can take custody of that person when he or she is released from local custody,” Cox wrote. “When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release serious criminal offenders onto the streets, it undermines ICE’s ability to protect public safety and carry out its mission.”
Cox also threatened a stepped-up ICE presence in Durham County due to the decision:
Any local jurisdiction thinking that refusing to cooperate with ICE will result in a decrease in local immigration enforcement is mistaken. Local jurisdictions that choose to not cooperate with ICE are likely to see an increase in ICE enforcement activity, as in jurisdictions that do not cooperate with ICE the agency has no choice but to conduct more at-large arrest operations.
Birkhead flatly dismissed Cox’s fear-mongering on the subject.
“These are not violent offenders,” he told the outlet. “So, no one has been released I would consider a threat to public safety.”
[image via Getty Images]