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Attorney blasts, Griffin defends renewal of 287(g) agreement

George Pappas (left) criticizes and Sheriff Lowell Griffin defends decision to renew a 287(g) agreement with ICE. George Pappas (left) criticizes and Sheriff Lowell Griffin defends decision to renew a 287(g) agreement with ICE.

Under pressure from the Board of Commissioners and Tea Party speakers at board meetings, Henderson County Sheriff Lowell Griffin announced last week he plans to renew a partnership with federal immigration officers to hold undocumented crime suspects in the county jail.

 

Griffin said in a news release that his department had determined the ICE agreement “provides law enforcement necessary tools to identify and remove a criminal element that is present within our communities.” At the same time, the sheriff, who ran last year as an ICE skeptic, announced the creation of a community liaison position “to facilitate communication between immigrant communities and local law enforcement” and ensure that Latino residents “feel safe in their ability to report crimes.”
Law enforcement action against undocumented residents has become a political flashpoint locally and around the state, with newly elected Democrats in several urban counties announcing they won’t work with ICE and Republicans in the General Assembly supporting a bill that would force sheriffs to assist the federal immigration agency. In Henderson County, tea party leader Jane Bilello and others have urged Griffin to renew the ICE agreement.
“If the sheriff’s department needs more officers or resources, we thank you for providing them,” Bilello told the commissioners last month. “They need whatever they can get to have this program renewed. However, be assured until 287g renewal is signed and made very public we will remain steadfast and eagle-eyed vigilant. … We’re not going away and we will continue to make sure this issue remains front and center and that this community understands what is at stake if in fact this program does go away.”
Griffin sought to portray his agency’s approach as even-handed.
“The process of placing an immigration detainer takes place only after a person has been arrested for a crime committed in Henderson County and is jailed in Henderson County for the offense,” his office said last week. “No local law enforcement officer, including Henderson County sheriff’s deputies, has any authority to question or take enforcement action concerning any person’s immigration status outside of the walls of the detention facility.”
George Pappas, a Hendersonville attorney who specializes in immigration law, laments the decision, saying the sheriff was right when he initially questioned the ICE partnership as a waste of money that unnecessarily sows mistrust.
“Whether you’re a Tea Party individual activist or you’re someone on the extreme left or you’re a county commissioner and Republican, believe it or not, all of those parties stand on common ground,” Pappas said. “Whether you’re pro-immigration, anti-immigration, tea party, left wing extremist — the common ground is that everyone believes that criminals who are in this country without documentation or permission should be deported. That is a common-ground consensus. … No one is for protecting criminals. The overriding issue is how enforcement is implemented. Right now, 287(g) is a colossal waste of financial resources.”
Pappas said he supports the right of ICE supporters to speak and urge the program’s renewal.
“I have no problem with them trying to do what they’re doing,” Pappas said. “That’s their right. My concern is that, given that you have this right, what are you basing your opposition or protest on? Bring us the numbers.”

 

‘Disruption spreads fear’



Commissioners have not based their support for 287(g) on facts either, Pappas says, because there are none.
“The county commissioners gave advice to the sheriff,” he said. “That decision was not based on any empirical study in Henderson County which shows whether the 287(g) actually reduces crime.” Until 2010, he says, the sheriff reported on what crimes an undocumented resident had committed here before being deported. “We know the numbers. Up until 2010, about 75 percent of the folks that were detained were misdemeanor violators,” Pappas said. “The county commissioners are operating in a black hole. Why they have not asked the sheriff to produce these statistics is fiscally irresponsible. If you want to tell people of this county that it’s safer to maintain 287(g) then prove it. Show us the numbers. They haven’t done that. They’ve abdicated that responsibility for eight years.”
Griffin is truthful when he says sheriff’s deputies aren’t a part of ICE agents making an arrest in a targeted enforcement case, Pappas says. But he says the fear and distrust bleeds over to the sheriff’s deputies anyway.
“The disruption not only spreads fear but has an economic cost throughout the community,” he says. “It undermines safety. It makes us poorer and it makes us less safe. What part of poorer and less safe don’t people understand?”


‘Victims should feel safe’ in reporting crime

Griffin defends his decision to renew 287(g) and strongly rebuts Pappas’s charges that the program makes the Latino community less safe.
“I think that’s totally false,” he said. “We’ve been working with officials directly involved with our immigration community, to include True Ridge and El Centro, and we want them to know that our goal is keep their communities safe as well as the entire county and I think the rhetoric George Pappas is spewing is tied to a political agenda and not necessarily the truth of what we’re trying to accomplish and what’s really going on. We are not here rounding people up on the streets, checking IDs. In fact, there are state laws that prohibit us from doing that.”
He responded, too, to the “false narrative” that someone could be arrested for driving without a license, taken to jail and deported. That won’t happen, he said, because the Legislature changed state law to make a no operator’s license charge an infraction, not a misdemeanor. A driver would not go to jail at all.
“Somebody that never commits a crime and they never go to jail, they don’t have anything to worry about,” he said.
“Victims should always feel safe in their ability to report crimes, regardless of their immigration status,” the department said last week. “The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office will continue to provide exemplary service to all the people of Henderson County, and the new community liaison position will only broaden these services.”
Griffin said the liaison position should give his department a bridge to the Latino community who can respond to complaints and explain the agency’s goals.
“Being able to put somebody in a position that the folks can really identify with and trust is going to go a long way in helping us develop resources we need in helping them,” he said. “We’re just looking at all tools we need to get the crime out of our community.”