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Congresswoman Sue Myrick sends me her email newsletter, and when I saw she was sponsoring a Hearing of her active Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources in Gastonia, with special attention to illegal immigration, I wrote in August 26 on my calendar.
Congresswoman Myrick has a big office in Gastonia, a manufacturing town that has suffered from the collapse of textiles. But downtown still has beautiful buildings, reminders of prosperous past times. Myrick's office is spacious, with an auditorium big enough to hold five congressmen, a table of witnesses, newsmen, and two hundred spectators with a line running out the door.
The first witness was the chief ICE agent for the NC-SC-GA division. His testimony, an unemotional recitation of ICE policy, was quickly overshadowed by the next witness.
Sheriff Jim Pendergraph of Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, NC) has been a lawman for 36 years and has seen police work from every angle. He's respected nationally, and holds the position of Treasurer in the Major County Sheriff's Association. He sees first hand the results of the deliberate Federal under-enforcement policy with respect to immigration laws. [Officials say locals swamped by illegals Most at hearing say feds ignore immigration By Tim Whitmire, AP, August 26, 2006]
And he has not stood by without taking action.
Pendergraph's department is the first sheriff's office east of Arizona to implement the 287(g) provision of the 1996 immigration act, and the only US county to deploy it in a jail setting. He learned of 287(g) in a conversation with the Sheriff of Orange County, CA back in October 2005, and became interested because of the known problems back in his home county.
Congresswoman Myrick's office immediately became involved, and lent forceful backing. 287(g) powers are delegated though a Memorandum of Agreement, and most of the language was worked out between the Sheriff's Office attorneys and local ICE agent Jeff Jordan. Following the MOU, 12 sworn officers attended a 4-week training session (the same as for entering ICE agents), and were duly graduated.
The program clicked into action May 1, 2006.
Pendergraph is pleased with how well the program is working—but perhaps rueful that in some respects it runs too well.
Lawmen face a formidable identification problem with illegals. As Pendergraph said (and got a big laugh), "I know it is shocking but people lie to law enforcement about their name and use names of persons who are in this country legally."
Not being able to identify these people properly opens the door to letting a dangerous or repeat offender walk out the door on minimal bail—the lawman's bad dream.
Non-287(g) agencies must rely on the Law Enforcement Support Service Center (Burlington, VT) to verify the identity of suspected illegals. Pendergraph describes this practice as "…worthless and a waste of time."
But with 287(g) comes a sparkling piece of law-tech, the ICE/FBI criminal identification system. This jewel relies on sophisticated computerized fingerprint and a facial identification programs.
When a person enters the jail, one of the first questions is if they are foreign-born, and all who answer "yes" get screened. The digitized information is sent to the huge ICE/FBI central database using a DSL (broadband) computer hookup. It takes 10 minutes to get a reply.
The Mecklenburg Sheriff's Office runs the jail, which serves all law enforcement agencies in the county. It is a focal point for anyone who gets arrested in the county, so it's efficient to concentrate the 287(g) work here.
That's the upside, now what's the downside?
Pendergraph's program does catch a lot of bad guys, and that's an indication of how serious the problem is. One offender had been removed from the US twenty-two times. He'd been brought in for trafficking methamphetamine. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident.
"So many illegal immigrant criminals have been identified through my 287(g) program, it is causing me a jail space problem. One of the agreements with ICE in the beginning was for their removal of the identified offenders as soon as possible. I don't think even they foresaw the numbers we would be dealing with. The Removal and Detention Division of ICE is overwhelmed by the numbers we are generating for removal in Mecklenburg County alone."
Because of the porous border, Pendergraph sees returnees. In one particularly notable case, a recent deportee turned up at the Mecklenburg jail 3 days after having been put off the bus in Mexico. Pendergraph says: "Think of the frustration we feel when a group of illegals leaves the jail for deportation and they smile and say 'See you next week'."
In spite of the negatives, however, the 287(g) idea is catching on in North Carolina. Gaston County Sheriff Alan Cloniger was another witness at the Hearing, and he took the opportunity to announce that his Office had just signed an MOU to enter the 287(g) program.
Cloniger indicated some illegals may have moved from next-door Mecklenburg because of the pressure exerted by their 287(g) program. "We're going to push them out of Gaston County," said Cloniger.
Charlotte-based ICE agent Jeff Jordan commented that there are at least four other North Carolina jurisdictions that are working on their 287(g) designation, and "…many others have expressed interest."
287(g) activity in North Carolina shows the determination of local officials to do something about the problem, even as the Federals (and, in North Carolina, the executive branch) drag their feet and Hispander away. They are beginning to throw off the PC fetters, for as Pendergraph says, "…this ' political correctness' will eventually be the downfall of this country if someone doesn't wake up."
(If you are interested in learning more about Sheriff Pendergraph and his pioneering 287(g) program, contact the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office's information officer, Julia Rush. Her telephone is 704 336 3667.)
J. Paige Straley (email him) is a VDARE.COM reader in Charlotte, NC.