Monday, November 27, 2006

Sheriff’s deputies in North Carolina have joined with federal agents in the detention and pending deportation of nearly 1,000 illegal aliens as part of a local-federal partnership targeting thousands of criminal aliens now loose on U.S. streets.

The detentions and resulting deportations are the result of an agreement between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office in which ICE agents trained and certified 10 deputies to perform federal immigration-enforcement functions.

“The ultimate goal of the partnership is to improve public safety and homeland security, and the efforts here in Mecklenburg County are an example of how effective we can be when we work together,” said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie Myers, who heads ICE.

“Our message to those who think they can break our immigration laws and prey upon our communities is simple: You are mistaken. Together, we will find you and deport you,” Mrs. Myers said during a press conference in Charlotte, N.C.

The partnership is a result of Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which authorizes state and local law-enforcement agencies to work with ICE to identify and detain immigration offenders. Mecklenburg County is the only fully operational 287(g) program in North Carolina. Similar programs are in place in Alabama, Florida, Arizona and California.

“The mission of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office is to protect the citizens of Mecklenburg County,” said Sheriff Jim Pendergraph. “I take those words very seriously. The 287(g) program is just another way to successfully remove from our country illegal aliens who prey on our citizens and commit crimes in our community.”

North Carolina’s illegal-alien population is estimated at 300,000 to 600,000, giving the state the nation’s eighth-largest population of illegals. Since May 1, everyone arrested and brought to the Mecklenburg County Jail in Charlotte has been screened by the specially trained deputies to determine their immigration status.

“We have a shortage of federal agents to deal with illegal aliens in our state, and this program provides us with some much needed backup,” said Rep. Sue Myrick, North Carolina Republican, adding that the partnership changes how North Carolina responds to illegal aliens.

“My hope is that every county in North Carolina sees what we are doing here and applies to set up a similar program with ICE,” she said.

Mrs. Myrick, who has been a strong advocate of immigration reform and enforcement, praised the 287(g) program during a press conference in August to announce that the 10 deputies had been given full legal authority to identify and detain illegal aliens.

“Sheriff Pendergraph, thank you for stepping up to the plate on this issue and taking the initiative for your office to implement this program,” said Mrs. Myrick. “For too long, illegal aliens have been caught and released because local officials have had their hands tied and did not have the authority or resources needed to enforce the law.

“If you are an illegal alien in Mecklenburg County and are caught by the local sheriff’s office, you will be identified, fingerprinted, booked and detained,” she said. “No longer will you be released back into the public, no longer will you slip through the cracks, no longer will we allow you to make a mockery of America’s legal immigration system.”

The 10 deputies interview foreign nationals at the jail to determine whether there is probable cause for an immigration violation. They also identify criminal aliens based on fingerprinting and prepare the documentation to place them in deportation proceedings.

ICE spokeswoman Kadia H. Koroma yesterday said 128 of those identified have been deported.

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