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Chatham Commissioners oppose ICE immigration enforcement

Posted Monday, January 19, 2009

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Pittsboro, NC - On Jan. 5th, the Chatham County Board of Commissioners joined the county’s Human Relations Commission in approving a resolution that expresses “strong opposition to any local governmental agency contracting with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce federal immigration laws.” The major concern is that participation in ICE can have negative consequences for the community and local governments.

“The resolution supports the current position of Chatham County’s law enforcement agencies, which have chosen not to contract with ICE, an optional program,” said Esther B. Coleman, director of the county’s Office of Human Relations.

“The purpose of the resolution is to convey the beliefs of the Human Relations Commission and the Board of Commissioners that enforcement of ICE agreements can lead to such problems as violations of civil rights and liberties, distrust of law enforcement, the separation of family members and racial profiling,” Coleman said.

While it is important to respect immigration laws, Margie Ellison, who chairs the county’s Human Relations Commission, said that “ICE appears to have various problems, even if many of these are unintended consequences.”

George Lucier, chair of the Board of Commissioners, agreed and added that “we fully support local law enforcement’s duty to uphold the law. At the same time, we commend our law enforcement leaders for not participating in the optional ICE program, because it has helped us avoid some problems that other communities are facing.”

Ellison said that “one of most tragic consequences is that the ICE detention process may separate family members, including abrupt separations of children from their parents.” A 2007 joint study released by the National Council of La Raza and The Urban Institute found that the children suffer both psychologically and economically during these periods of detention and uncertainty about the fate of their parents.

“The youngest and most vulnerable children, who often are U.S. citizens, can experience an extended period of time without adequate supervision, care or financial support; and this can do tremendous damage to children,” Ellison said.

The resolution notes that one of the stated purposes of ICE is to remove dangerous criminals from the streets, but a North Carolina legislative committee report from May of 2007 produced data that showed the program veering from this intent. In the report, statistics from in Gaston, Mecklenburg and Alamance counties indicated that the vast majority of ICE detentions were for minor offenses, mostly traffic violations, instead of felony charges.

Another area of concern, identified by the North Carolina Human Relations Commission, is that immigrant residents in communities with active ICE agreements are more reluctant to report crimes to local law enforcement, because they fear that they or family members would be detained. “Public safety suffers if any person feels that they cannot report criminal activity,” said Sheriff Richard Webster. Siler City Police Gary Tyson gave his support to the ICE resolution.

A national organization of police chiefs, the Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCC) has opposed ICE agreements because it undermines the trust and cooperation between law enforcement and immigrant communities. Other concerns that the MCC has related to ICE are:

  • Insufficient funding to effectively train local officers to lawfully and effectively enforce federal immigration laws;
  • The complexity of federal immigration laws that would be enforced put local law enforcement officers and local governments at risk of legal challenges; and
  • Local law enforcement has no local authority and very limited state authority related to immigration enforcement.
Commissioner Lucier said that the resolution also acknowledges the vital role of diversity and immigration in the rich history and development of Chatham County.

“Our county has been blessed with a diverse population for much of its existence. This has included people of color and immigrants, who were not always American citizens or documented residents. All of these residents have enriched our economy, our character and our culture as well,” Lucier said.

 
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