U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is asking the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) to rejoin the 287(g) program. This program works to develop a relationship with local law enforcement — it would give the ACSO the authority to act as ICE deputies with access to a national database of undocumented people. 

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson is up for re-election and is running unopposed, advocating for the reinstatement of the 287(g) program. 

“This is a tool to allow us to eliminate a criminal element preying upon our citizens of Alamance County,” Johnson said. 

Johnson was sued by the U.S. Department of Justice for profiling the Latino community in 2012 through the 287(g) program. Initially, a judge ruled in Johnson’s favor. The case was appealed by the United States in 2014 and was settled in 2016. After the court case, the program was ended. 

Vanessa Bravo, associate professor of communications, has conducted research on the immigrant community in North Carolina and said reinstating the program could lead to racial profiling.

“It does not matter if you were born in this country. If you have legal residence here, if you have a visa that allows you to be here or even if you are undocumented and were stopped randomly,” Bravo said. “Everybody who ‘looks Latino’ could be harassed based on the way they look. This is the textbook definition of racially profiling and of discrimination.” 

During the lawsuit, the DOJ launched an investigation into ACSO. They determined there was a pattern of “discriminatory policing against Latinos.” The investigation said, “Addressing these findings and creating sustainable reforms will require ACSO to commit to long-term structural, cultural and institutional change.” 

Two years later, in 2017, ICE has extended an invitation for ACSO to rejoin the 287(g) program. Johnson told the Times-News, “I immediately agreed.” 

Bravo believes local law enforcement should stand against ICE’s invitation because of the detrimental effects she believes it will have on the community. 

“The ICE program exists, but local authorities are the ones who choose if they join the 287(g) or not,” Bravo said. “We need to say no.”

Sylvia Muñoz, associate director for the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education at Elon University (CREDE), has been following Johnson’s policies toward immigration.

“This is not a new narrative,” Muñoz said. “This has always been the sheriff’s political platform, so for the people who read the news and are in the know, it is not surprising.”

But she said xenophobic attitudes toward undocumented immigrants affect everyone.

“This is a microcosm of what is happening out there,” Muñoz said. “This is not an issue about a few people — it is an issue of humanity.” 

Immigrant Realities is a student organization at Elon founded after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was rescinded. It advocates for immigrant rights and has hosted panels that discuss issues involving immigration. Junior Amy Belfer is a member of the Immigrant Realities leadership team and has been closely following the local politics surrounding the reinstatement of the 287(g) program. 

Belfer said undocumented immigrants are more likely to be charged by law enforcement for petty offenses such as speeding or a headlight being out. These charges threaten their ability to stay in the country. 

According to an Elon News Network analysis of the ACSO’s 2015 Traffic Stop Statistics, Hispanics were 3 percent more likely to be stopped that year than Caucasians. That same year, the DOJ determined this was a form of targeting the Latino community. 

According to the Department of Justice, the ASCO deputies arrested Latinos for “minor traffic violations while issuing citations or warnings to non-Latinos for the same violations.” 

Today, Muñoz sees it as her job to educate others about immigration in hopes of changing the attitudes surrounding the issue.

“It’s my responsibility as a citizen to fight that narrative and to educate,” Muñoz said, “That’s why — in any institution of higher education — it is important to educate students on what the real issues are and what the real narratives are.” 

When looking at the conversation of immigration holistically, Muñoz said everyone who lives in the U.S. that isn’t native to the country is an immigrant.

“If you go back to your roots, you’re an immigrant. Your parents are immigrants, your grandparents … so this country is formed from immigrants,” Muñoz said. 

But for Johnson, immigration is a problem that needs to be solved. When re-elected, he is eager to rejoin ICE’s program, and hopes he has the county commissioners’ support.

“These people that are crossing the border, that come to a better life in America, I have no problem with,” Johnson said. “But it’s those criminals that cross the border, that come here to prey upon our citizens and their own populations – I have a problem with them.”

“I can’t speak for county commissioners, but the citizens seem very supportive of it,” Johnson said, talking about the 287(g) program. 

 County Commissioner Bob Byrd personally does not support the 287(g) program. As of right now, he is unsure what power the county commissioners have in approving the 287(g) program. 

“It’s a little bit unclear as to what authority the board of commissioners has, and as to whether or not we engage in that program,” Byrd said.

He spoke to the attorney for the Alamance County Board of Commissioners, who said she was certain Johnson could sign an agreement with ICE and the commissioners would not have to approve it. 

What control the county commissioners do have is approving the sheriff’s budget. If Johnson needed to increase his staff for the 287(g) program, then that would need to be approved by the board.

In an open forum to Elon students last month, Byrd told students the Alamance County Detention Center is “strategically located” because it is close to the interstate and other high-crime counties. Because of this, according to Byrd, ICE is asking again to use Alamance County’s jail. 

When an undocumented immigrant is detained, they can’t be held in a federal prison. Because of this, ICE uses 287(g) to find counties that will detain undocumented immigrants. The counties that are detaining undocumented immigrants in their local jails will receive funding from ICE per person who is detained. 

Byrd doesn’t believe the community will be safer with this program in place in the county and thinks the fear spreading throughout the Latino community is harmful. 

Bravo agrees, seeing 287(g) as a huge threat to the community. 

“This does not make our community safer. This only makes our community unsafe and creates fear and distrust ... Today, they are afraid of sending their children to school, of doing grocery shopping, of driving to run errands,” Bravo said. “Is that the type of community we want to have? Most people don’t.”

But, Johnson sees the citizens of Alamance County as supportive of his decision to rejoin the 

287(g) program.  

Immigrant Realities is encouraging the Elon community to be aware of the effect the 287(g) program has on the county. By being an organization that starts the conversation about immigration and conducts talks about the topic and the problems associated with it, Belfer explains that “Immigrant Realities is trying to educate people.”

Many local groups in the county are also in opposition of the program being implemented in their community. The NAACP Alamance Chapter, the ACLU-NC, Alamance Peace Action, Fairness Alamance, Latinos Unidos Promoviendo la Esperanza and Latinos of Alamance are all standing against the 287(g) program. 

Muñoz said harsh immigration policies are something all Americans should be thinking about more seriously. 

“We are all affected by it,” Muñoz said, “by one way or another.”