Orange County and the "Secure Communities" Program

Hi OP. I'm a long-time lurker, first-time poster.

I attended the OC county commissioner's meeting last night and heard Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass defend the county's participation in the federal "secure communities" program, which provides access to the fingerprint databases of the Dept. of Homeland Security and the FBI. Here's what I took away from the meeting, along with info gleaned from local papers. (If I am mistaken, please jump in to clarify. This is not a subject about which I am particularly knowledgeable).

This is the short version:

(Herald-Sun has a good article too, but you have to register to read it).

As I understand it, "Secure Communities" is a two-way program. Detention officers fingerprint anyone coming to the OC jail. This goes into the database, the officer will get the ID info, and the location of the individual will go to federal officials, who may choose to follow up on the person if they have other warrants, or are undocumented. 

The county commissioners resolved in 2007 to reject participation in the federal program known as 287 (g), a program that allows (some would say encourages) police to initiate immigration enforcement instead of relying on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), namely by detaining illegal or undocumented people in the jail solely on the basis of their immigration status. Alamance, Durham, and Wake currently participate in this program.  

So, Pendergrass states that particpation in the new program holds to the spirit of the 2007 resolution rejecting 287 (g) because OC Sheriff's Office staff will not be involved or even aware of the immigration status of the people ID'd by the new system, nor will people be detained by OCSO for any reason other than criminal charges.

 But others worry that since the feds get the ID info directly from the jails and can use it to detain or deport a person, this program will have the same effect as the one rejected in 2007, regardless of who's doing the actual detaining.

At the meeting last night, Pendergrass seemed to suggest that OC was chosen by the state to participate in the pilot version of the Secure Communities program, and stated that all 100 counties will enroll by the end of this year. Interestingly, The Daily Tarheel is the only local paper reporting that Pendergrass made the decision to enroll OC without consulting the board.

So which is it? Was this forced upon us by the state, or were we enrolled voluntarily? Or both? Does our community still share the sentiments of the board that voted in 2007to reject 287 (g)? How has this new program worked in other areas? 





You can find a good overveiw, written by Colin Austin of the county's Human Relations Commission, reprinted on Commissioner Mike Nelson's blog:

It will be interesting to hear/read the reaction of the OC Commissioners and the public at large to Dan Way's editorial in this morning's CHH.  He is obviously willing to take a position and has done so in his Sunday editorials the last few weeks.  You can't read it online unless you are a subscriber.  I encourage you to get a copy somewhere and read it; it should generate a lot of debate.Here is a selection: 

Commissioners risk public safety with a PC policy Jan 25, 2009Does Eve Carson ever cross the minds of the seven Orange County commissioners? Did they think of her as they grilled Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass about his law enforcement agency's involvement in a federal program designed to protect American citizens and national interests? One must wonder, because there are chilling similarities in how the N.C. Department of Correction's probation division totally mishandled the cases of two Durham thugs accused of cowardly gunning down the UNC student body president and the willful blind eye the commissioners desire that Pendergrass turn to potentially violent criminals here illegally. The political correctness versus responsible police work showdown occurred Thursday night when Pendergrass gave the Board of Commissioners a rundown of the Secure Communities program, in which the sheriffs' offices in Orange, Duplin and New Hanover counties are participating.


One thing is sure. When probation violators are identified as recurring lawbreakers, they can be jailed and dealt with. But Orange County commissioners favor a double standard that gives greater protection to immigrants violating federal law than is granted to native Americans on probation, and that is wrong. How will they explain that to the family of the next Eve Carson when a very preventable death occurs because of their political correctness? Dan E. Way is editor of The Chapel Hill Herald.

I don't think I'm going to like this guy.

I've been following this issue and I'm still not sure what the proper stance should be for law enforcement officials (LEOs).  I don't want our local police officers serving as surrogates for the federal immigration officials.  And yet, if someone is detained for an illegal activity I'm not uncomfortable with the LEOs checking to determine if there are outstanding wants or warrants on the detained individuals.  I'd hate to see a serious criminal go free because the local LEOs weren't empowered to check. If someone has an answer to this diificult situation please share it with me because I'm personally quite troubled by either scenario as I currently see them.

What does the death of Eve Carson have to do with jailing and deporting unlawful immigrants? Her indicted assailants were native born.

Because they came from outside Orange County?  The column, which could have raised some interesting questions, failed utterly by trying to relate immigration to a crime committed by US citizens.There are thousands of immigrants in our community who are just trying to make a living.  Some of them have the correct paperwork from the feds.  Some don't.  Personally, I am far more concerned about criminals who are hurting people and stealing property - no matter where they are from or how they got here.

My radar starts to blip whenever someone invokes "political correctness" - nowadays, it almost certainly used as a negative, despite its true origin - and here he actually contrasts it with "responsible police work" (which should, according to him, be politically incorrect?) .  I daresay the guy's not going to be exactly progressive.

I'm not commenting on the column, but I will say I know Dan Way and he is a good guy. Here's the link to the full column: 

Invoking Eve Carson is a little over-the-top.What is glaringly missing from Way's essay is any acknowledgment of immigration issues from the point-of-view of the well-adjusted immigrants living with us in our communities, with families & jobs, who have not been able to achieve citizenship or legal status.  

Since the sheriff is an elected official in his own right, exactly what is the professional or reporting relationship between him and the BOCC?   

Anita, my observations have been that in NC, the Boards of Commissioners allocate the local share of the Sheriff's funding, set his/her salary (not a minor matter) and appoint a successor if necessitated by death in office or resignation. Lindy Pendergrass was first elected in 1982 (based on a WCHL interview with him last week). He has evidently beaten back 6 challenges in general elections since then, and some primary challenges as well.  He's outlasted many Commissioners.     

Here is my response to Way's column, posted on the Independent Weekly's Triangulator blog:

Thanks for posting this thread--it alerted me to the column.

-Matt Saldana, Indy staff writer

Matt, your response is right on the mark.  Thanks for posting it!


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