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Supporters of 287g urge county to keep ICE partnership

A church organization's effort urging new sheriff Lowell Griffin to drop a partnership with ICE, the federal immigration enforcement agency, is drawing fire from supporters of the program.

Nine residents of the county urged the Board of Commissioners on Monday night to do everything in their power to stop Griffin from walking away from the county's 287g agreement, which speeds identification and deportation of undocumented immigrants wanted for crimes.

The Compassionate Action Group and Church Council of the First Congregational United Church of Christ approved a resolution and letter that it called "an essential step for safeguarding our immigrant community in WNC" and urged Griffin to end the partnership.

"In the recent elections, Sheriffs of the other five NC counties that have ICE agreements lost their elections and offices," the Action Group said. "We're told that incoming Henderson County Sheriff Griffin wants to know the community's feelings about whether to continue the County's agreement with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. We want him to know our feelings and will deliver this petition to him shortly after his swearing in."

"Rigid interpretation of the 287g forces many of our immigrant friends, neighbors, and school children into the shadows," the church's resolution said. "It creates a toxic climate of mistrust of law enforcement and fears of uncertain consequences for those who are often already in precarious socioeconomic situations. ... We are troubled by the costs to Henderson County taxpayers incurred by 287g stipulations for local law enforcement to assist in federal immigration practices (which we believe are separately long overdue for review and revision)."

The resolution called for "more humane treatment of our local immigrant/migrant community and immediate cancellation of agreement 287g."

Monday night's show of support before the Board of Commissioners suggests that the debate is far from one-sided. Nine speakers who rose during the board's public comment time strongly supported the 287g program. None stood to oppose it.

“I’m concerned about the illegal criminals that are in this county," said Harvey Sankey of Horse Shoe. "I think it’s important that the commissioners tell everybody how do you feel about extending 287g. It’s a safety issue. I think the people in Henderson County would like to know how you feel, individually, your opinion about 287g. Tell them that you care about their safety. You don’t want to harbor any illegal criminal aliens in this county."

So far this year the sheriff's office had made 44 identifications under 287g resulting in nine deportations, down from 82 uses of the program and 30 deportations last year, said J.P. Bailes III, of Hendersonville. Although the number may seem small in a county with an estimated immigrant population of 10,000, “what we do need to talk about is the deterrent factor,” Bailes said. “There’s a reason the numbers in 2018 were smaller than the 2017 numbers.”

"The 287g program allows for swift identification of these illegals when they are processed into the jail," Paul Rebuck told the board. "The 287g program is a wise and effective use of our tax dollars."

Griffin said in an interview with the Lightning last week that he plans to evaluate the program between now and June 30, when the current agreement expires.

“I do have some concerns about the cost that the citizens of Henderson County are actually carrying because there is a duplication of services," he said. "With the technology today, when we make an arrest, fingerprints are submitted and federal agencies can submit detainers in a matter of minutes so it’s no longer critical to have officers to do that same identification inside the detention center."

The ICE agreement, he said, also adds requirements that cost money without increasing security.

"While we’re under federal contract there are certain standards that are not a safety enhancement, believe me, it’s more of a burden that we have to abide by with the operation of the detention center, from the way we clothe inmates to issues with the diet," he said. "There’s a lot of things that burden the taxpayer with continuing this program in Henderson County. I’m not sure it’s providing any extra safety aspects for the citizens of Henderson County.”