In a press conference this morning, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said North Carolina counties hit by ICE raids this week should expect more of the same.

Atlanta field office director Sean Gallagher estimated the agency had detained about two hundred people across the state this week, not including about thirty picked up at a Sanford gun manufacturing plant.

“I would say the new normal is you will see more visible ICE presence out in the communities,” Gallagher said. “Two hundred cases a week, probably not—but you will see an increase in enforcement.”

Out of those two hundred, Gallagher said about fifty had criminal convictions, forty were facing pending criminal charges, and fifty had already been ordered removed from the country. Sixty were “at-large” arrests of people encountered by ICE agents while carrying out targeted enforcement aimed at taking specific people into custody.

Those at-large arrests were “a product of some of the policies that have been enacted within the state with respect to Mecklenburg County, Durham, Wake County, as well as Orange County,” Gallagher said.

Usually, he continued, ICE makes about fifty at-large arrests per week in the region under his supervision, which includes Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

“I think the uptick you’ve seen is the direct result of some of the dangerous policies that some of our county sheriffs have put into place, and it really forces my officers to go out on the street and conduct more operations out in the community, at courthouses, at residences, doing traffic stops,” he said. “This is a direct correlation between the sheriffs’ dangerous policies of not cooperating with ICE and the fact that we have to continue executing our important law enforcement mission.” (Earlier in the press conference, Gallagher denied ICE agents had been ensnaring people via traffic stops.)

Gallagher then went on to list specific cases of individuals released by authorities in Wake, Durham, Orange, and Mecklenburg, saying those sheriffs were endangering public safety. 

Voters in several North Carolina counties resoundingly rejected local law enforcement cooperation with ICE by electing new sheriffs who vowed not to participate in ICE programs. 

In November, Wake County elected a new sheriff, Gerald Baker, who ended his agency’s involvement in the federal 287(g) program, which deputizes local officers to carry out some immigration enforcement duties. Mecklenburg County’s newly elected sheriff, Garry McFadden, made the same move in December.

While Durham police ended its involvement in 287(g) years ago, Sheriff Clarence Birkhead, promptly issued a directive telling jail staff not to honor ICE detainer requests without an accompanying judicial warrant or order for arrest. ICE detainers, also known as ICE holds, are requests from ICE asking that a person in local jail custody be held beyond the time they would have otherwise been released—for example, by posting bond—so that ICE can assume custody.

In under three years, more than a hundred people went directly into ICE custody from the Durham jail as a result of detainers, the INDY reported in September, including a Jordan High School student who was detained and deported after a charge against him for breaking into a car was dropped. Multiple courts have found detainers unconstitutional.

“If the federal government wants to criticize us for not honoring detainers, I’m OK with that, because I think the community at large will be appreciative of that approach and appreciate us being good stewards of local resources,” Birkhead told the INDY while he was running for sheriff. “There’s nothing in the federal law that says I must participate.”

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood has had the same policy toward detainers as Durham since 2014 and does not participate in 287(g).

While Gallagher said “this isn’t about fighting with the sheriffs,” he said the lack of cooperation from those agencies is forcing ICE to send out teams of agents into communities, which is causing people not originally targeted to be swept up as well. 

It’s unclear exactly how many people were detained in what jurisdiction. Eliazar Posada, a community engagement and advocacy manager with El Centro Hispano, said Thursday the organization was assisting the families of three individuals detained in Durham, including one person detained after taking a child to school. El Centro Hispano plans to raise funds to help those affected and is helping connect families to legal help.

“We’ve seen these tactics used time and time again,” Posada told the INDY.

Separately, Durham City Council member Javiera Caballero said Thursday that a man was detained while taking his child to Hillside High School. On Friday morning, video surfaced reportedly showing a man being detained near downtown Durham; Gallagher said during the press conference agents had arrested a man in Durham who had been released from jail in Orange County. 

“If you go to neighborhoods where the majority of residents are Latino or immigrants, you will see the streets are empty,” organizer Ivan Almonte told the Durham City Council Thursday. “People don’t want to leave their places. They have cut off activities. If you go to Latino businesses, the owners are saying no one is coming to buy stuff. They’re really afraid. A lot of parents refuse to send their kids to school because they don’t feel safe.”

Update: Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker issued the following statement in response to ICE Atlanta Field Office Director Sean Gallagher’s remarks:

Statement_Sheriff Baker Res… by on Scribd

Update: The Durham County Sheriff’s Office sent out the following press release responding to Gallagher’s comments:

“Sheriff Clarence Birkhead, the Durham County Sheriff stands by his decision to end the practice of honoring ICE detainers. Detainers are a request from Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE made of detention centers to hold suspected undocumented immigrants 48 hours beyond the time they would legally be allowed to be released after posting bond or serving a sentence.  

ICE is notified of an individuals presence in a facility when they are entered into a database accessible by all law enforcement.  Once an individual is processed into the detention center ICE has the opportunity to obtain appropriate court orders or warrants to take someone into custody.  We will comply with these legal court orders. 

In response to a statement made by immigration officials today Sheriff Birkhead offers the following statement ‘It is unfortunate that ICE is now becoming more active in North Carolina, specifically in Durham. The recent actions of ICE agents are making persons, in our community, afraid of law enforcement. The decision I made to not honor ICE detainers was in part to help ALL of Durham’s people feel safe and encourage our residents to feel like they can trust my deputies, and law enforcement in general.  And, if ICE agents presented a warrant, which is based on probable cause, in my capacity as sheriff I would support such an action.’”

One reply on “ICE Blames Its “More Visible Presence” in NC on New Sheriffs Not Cooperating With the Agency”

  1. I got news for these wise guys in ICE. After 2020, they won’t be able to get jobs as mall cops in the flyover states that voted for Trump. Having “ICE” on one’s resume will help only if one is a caterer.

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