Commissioner, sheriff differ over immigration program

February 22, 2012 3:53 PM
Chris Lavender / Times-News

GRAHAM — Commissioner Tim Sutton wants to see the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office take another look at how it runs the 287 (g) program.

Sutton said on Tuesday Sheriff Terry Johnson needs to delegate more and not micro-manage how 287 (g) is being operated by the county.

The 287 (g) program trains and authorizes local law enforcement and jailers as federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers for the purpose of deporting people in the country illegally. The sheriff’s department implemented the program in 2007 in partnership with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Sutton and Johnson discussed their differences of opinion regarding 287 (g) on Monday during an Alamance County Board of Commissioners meeting. The Alamance County jail has seen a steady decline in revenues received from federal sources since fiscal year 2008-09 because the number of beds filled at the jail by federal inmates has declined.

According to County Finance Director Amy Weaver, the Alamance County jail is facing a $3.2-million deficit in federal funds for fiscal 2011-12 if current trends continue.

The jail received $5.9 million in fiscal 2008-09 and 2009-10 for federal programs to retain U.S. Marshals Service and 287 (g) inmates at the 435-bed facility. The county jail’s revenues for federal programs declined to $4.7 million in fiscal 2010-11, which was $1.3 million less than what was budgeted for the period.

Based on current budget forecasts, the county jail will likely receive $2.9 million for federal programs at the jail for the current fiscal year. The county had budgeted the jail would receive $6.1 million in federal funds during the period.

Sutton said on Tuesday he believes the county’s expectations were set too high and the county administration shouldn’t have set a budget for $6.1 million for federal revenues at the jail for fiscal 2011-12. Sutton also said he is confident that Johnson will be able to improve 287 (g)’s financial results for the county.

County Manager Craig Honeycutt said on Tuesday that the county looks at trends in the budgeting process.

“The trend had been around $6 million for the prior two years,” Honeycutt said. “Last year we thought it was an anomaly and it would have gone back to normal this year. For next year we are only looking at budgeting $3.5 to $3.7 million.”

During the commissioners meeting on Monday, Sutton suggested Johnson needs to meet with federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers from Atlanta to help everyone take a new approach on how the program is run.

Sutton said he understands that the number of inmates processed through the 287 (g) program has declined nationwide but more could be done by Alamance County to market the program better across the state to help boost the number of federal inmates housed at the local jail.

Johnson defended the sheriff’s office’s use of the program against Sutton’s claims that everything isn’t being done to make the program succeed in Alamance County.

“I try and do everything I can to get them here,” Johnson said about 287 (g) program.

Sutton said at the commissioners meeting he doesn’t have a vendetta against Johnson and the sheriff’s office, but he believes he needs to ask questions about how the program is being run since there is a projected $3.2 million deficit in federal funding for the jail.

Sutton said if the situation doesn’t improve the county could be forced to use its fund balance to offset costs. Sutton said he recently talked with ICE officials who said they would be willing to meet with Johnson and the county if they were given a 45-day notice.

Johnson provided several letters to the commissioners on Monday from law enforcement agencies that currently run the 287 (g) program. The letters showed these communities have also experienced substantial declines in the number of inmates processed through the 287 (g) program.

“Last year our average 287 (g)/ICE inmate population was around 46 inmates per day,” Mecklenburg County Sheriff Chipp Bailey stated in a Feb. 17 letter. “New procedures put in place by ICE headquarters in Washington led to that population plunging to an average of 5 per day so far this year.”

Randolph County Sheriff Maynard Reid Jr. also sent Johnson a letter this month regarding 287 (g) results in his district. Beginning in 2008, the number of people processed through 287 (g) declined. There were 447 inmates processed through the program in 2008 and by 2011 the number processed dipped to 252 people who had been arrested in Randolph County.

The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office isn’t the only local law enforcement agency that processes inmates through 287 (g). Thirteen local law enforcement agencies also use the 287 (g) program in Alamance County.

During 2010, there were 402 detainees interviewed in Alamance County through 287 (g), of which 172 were illegal immigrants turned over to full federal control. There were 464 detainees interviewed in 2009, of which 251 were illegal immigrants turned over to full federal control.

ICE Southern Region Communications Director Vincent Picard reported on Tuesday that the number of people arrested and processed through 287 (g) nationwide has declined during the past three fiscal years.

According to Picard, there were 56,548 people arrested and interviewed by 287 (g) officers nationwide in fiscal year 2009-10 as compared to 54,921 people in fiscal 2010-11. The 287 (g) officers have interviewed 16,961 people arrested nationwide to determine their immigration status during the current fiscal year.

Of the people who were arrested and interviewed by ICE officials through 287 (g), Picard said that 49,000 in fiscal 2009-10 were taken into custody by ICE nationwide and placed into removal proceedings while still in local or state custody. This number dipped nationwide to 39,341 placed into ICE custody for removal proceedings in fiscal 2010-11.

Picard reported that there have been 11,068 individuals nationwide taken into ICE custody or placed into removal proceedings during the current fiscal year.

Commissioner Tom Manning said on Monday that Johnson should consider providing the commissioners a full update on the 287 (g) program next month. Manning said the public should be informed on how the program is run.

Commissioner, sheriff differ over immigration program | differ, graham, immigration - Burlington Times News