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Commissioner Lucier backs out of public citizen forum

By Debra J. Henzey
Posted Thursday, February 26, 2009

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Pittsboro, NC - Commissioner Lucier asked me to forward this statement that he sent to the Chatham Conservative Voice today concerning the forum they are sponsoring tomorrow evening:


I had originally agreed to participate in a panel discussion sponsored by the Chatham Conservative Voice (CCV), scheduled for the evening of February 26. I did so with the understanding that this would be a forum where local people could have a civil discussion about the 287(g) program as well as many other critical issues facing Chatham County, such as: school funding, the capital improvement program, budget priorities, economic development, revaluation issues, and implementation of the land use plan.

However, in the past week, several outside groups not affiliated with CCV have actively promoted this meeting with their own flyers and email lists, using inflammatory language. For example, NCFIRE has widely promoted the meeting to a long list of state/national organizations, including ALI-PAC, NC Minutemen Patriots and the Asheville Action Club. They have stated in their flyers that the purpose of the meeting is "fighting back against Chatham County" and have declared that "most terrorists are also illegal aliens." These communications have effectively undermined the efforts of CCV and local residents to have a civil discussion about various issues.

Given that the meeting is being used by outside groups and promoted as something not originally intended. I will not participate in the forum on Thursday evening. However, as the chair of the Board of Commissioners, I am happy to talk with local residents individually or in other local groups, using a format that is not dominated and emotionally charged by outside influences. Sally Kost, vice chair of the commissioners, and I propose to meet with CCV and/or members of the local Republican Party to discuss their views on issues of importance to Chatham County.

A large number of people did attend the last Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 16 to share their views on the 287(g) resolution, with a substantial majority stating their support of the commissioners' position. Based on the massive discussion on the Chatlist, it was clearly recognized by all sides that public input on this issue was slated for Feb. 16.

The 287(g) issue also has been covered widely by the local news media (TV, radio and newspapers) and I have given at least 15 interviews on the topic, including two that were detailed front-page articles. Examples are the Feb. 5 issues of The Chatham News & Record and The News & Observer. By now, the reasons for the Board of Commissioners adoption of the 287(g) resolution should be clear.

Below is a statement on behalf of the Board of Commissioners, which summarizes the factors and statistics behind the county commissioners' adoption of the resolution.


Summary of the Reasons Why the Board of Commissioners Adopted a Resolution Opposing County Participation in the Federal ICE 287(g) Program

* It is costly. According to Sheriff Webster, we would have to build a new detention center to participate in ICE. The Johnston County sheriff is asking for $30 million to build a new jail. The Commissioners would rather build schools than jails. North Chatham Middle School is 40% over capacity. We could not afford the new middle school if we had to build a new jail in these difficult financial times.

Moreover, when undocumented parents are deported, the children left behind often must be placed in foster care, at a major cost to the county.

Because of difficult financial times, the Commissioners will have to cut some programs-we certainly don't want to start new ones that are costly and ineffective.

* It is ineffective in crime prevention. Sheriff Webster and Chief Tyson do not recommend that we participate in ICE because it is not effective. Sheriff Webster and Chief Tyson join with many other law enforcement officials across the nation in believing that 287(g) undermines the trust that law enforcement agencies have worked so hard to establish with the immigrant community. The National Major Cities Chiefs Association has opposed 287(g) participation for these and other reasons.
We would rather put our resources into crime prevention programs that work, like gang prevention. We commend Sheriff Webster and Captain Gardner for their outstanding gang prevention programs. Since Wake County implemented ICE, crime has increased and most of the increase is attributable to gang activities. The BOC also urges the Sheriff to continue efforts to reduce drunk driving and our resolution does nothing to deter his efforts. Moreover, there is evidence that the immigrant community is reluctant to report crimes in areas where ICE has been implemented.

* This resolution does not keep law enforcement from enforcing the law. We fully support Sheriff Webster's enforcement of the law and his efforts to prevent crime. Those committing crimes should be prosecuted and punished. We have an outstanding Sheriff's Office and we are proud of the initiatives that have improved law enforcement in Chatham County.

Our support is embodied in the adopted commissioners' resolution, which states: "Be it resolved that the Board of Commissioners supports local law enforcement in the execution of their duties in the constitutions and laws of the United States, North Carolina, and Chatham County. Be it also resolved that, in continuing its belief of controlling its own destiny... while proudly preserving diverse cultural heritages, the Chatham County Board of Commissioners stands in strong opposition to any local governmental agency contracting with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws."

* There is considerable evidence that participation in the 287(g) program increases the risk of racial profiling. Please remember that racial profiling is, in fact, a crime. No person should live in fear because of his or her ethnic background. Based on 2008 statistics from participating North Carolina counties, the vast majority of people detained have been those arrested for non-violent and non-felony offenses, especially minor traffic violations (i.e. offenses other than DUIs and other serious traffic violations). This was confirmed by a North Carolina report released in February 2009 by UNC's Immigration/Human Rights Policy Clinic and the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, which found that racial profiling is one of several major problems resulting from participation in the 287(g) program in North Carolina.

* This is a voluntary program. Voluntary means that a county can choose to participate or not participate in 287(g). The fact is that 92 out of 100 counties do not participate in 287(g). So the assertion that Chatham County would be a sanctuary county for undocumented immigrants is unfounded.
* Why would the Chatham County commissioners work to participate in a program that is costly, ineffective, increases the risk of racial profiling?

* We think that everyone can agree that the federal government's immigration policy has been a failure and is dysfunctional. We believe that it is wrong to pass that failure on to local governments, which are not equipped to handle federal immigration laws.

* We adopted the resolution in an open, transparent and deliberate manner. We can assure you that of the 100 counties in the state, Chatham County has dealt with this issue in a more open and transparent way than any county in this state. None of the other 92 counties opting out of the 287(g) program have held a public hearing on the issue. Of the eight counties participating in 287(g), we have heard back from six (two have not responded) that they did not hold a public hearing on the issue before opting into the program and, in some cases, the Board of Commissioners and the public were not notified of law enforcement's participation.

The Human Relations Commission (HRC) worked on the resolution over a 10-month period and their meetings are open to the public. Moreover, the ICE resolution was part of our Jan. 5 agenda. This agenda was placed on the county website ahead of time and the agenda included the proposed resolution as well as background materials. The HRC talked with the Sheriff on multiple occasions during the 10-month period. He was aware that we were considering the resolution at our Jan 5 meeting and he did not indicate opposition to it. When the BOC considers significant ordinances, which are laws or decisions, we hold public hearings--examples would be subdivision ordinances, budget ordinances, etc. The ICE resolution is not an ordinance; it simply is a statement of our opposition to participating in ICE for the reasons indicated above.

* Chatham County is a diverse county. Our biggest challenge is to take advantage of that wonderful diversity. Our biggest failure would be if we did not take advantage of that diversity. In Chatham County, we want to honor the diversity we have, not disrespect it.

For these reasons, the Chatham County commissioners have no intention of revisiting our opposition to the 287(g) program.

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Commissioner Lucier backs out of public citizen forum
County Commissioner George Lucier.
photo by Gene Galin