Non-profits and agencies that work with the immigrant community in Western North Carolina say they’re disappointed by the Henderson County Sheriff’s decision to renew its agreement with federal immigration authorities.
On Fri., Sheriff Lowell Griffin announced his department will continue to participate in its 287(g) agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The voluntary agreement was set to expire in June. It allows officers in his department to collaborate with federal ICE agents after an individual has been taken into custody.
Executive Director of El Centro in Hendersonville Sergio Fernandez says he’s saddened by the Sheriff’s decision.
“I spoke to him many times. He’s a person who really cares about the Latino community, and really wanted to help our community to progress, be better, have a safer neighborhood,” Fernandez said. “He couldn’t go against the politics that was happening around him.”
Fernandez says the department’s decision to collaborate with ICE impacts the broader community because individuals who are undocumented fear reporting crime.
“If somebody’s in my house taking my TV, I would rather buy a new TV than call the police because I don’t want to get deported,” Fernandez said.
But Sheriff Griffin is emphatic that participation in 287(g) doesn’t give officers the authority to check immigration when they’re out patrolling. It’s a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Homeland Security that allows certain trained officers within the sheriff’s department to check immigration status of inmates in the county jail and to collaborate with federal immigration officials.
“287(g) is the tool we need to actually remove those folks that even the folks in the immigrant communities want removed,” Griffin said.
In addition to renewing the agreement with ICE, his department is creating a community liaison position to improve relations with the Latinx and immigrant community.
“I know there are crimes that are not being reported just because of this fear, everything from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to drug trafficking and so forth,” Griffin said. “So we need to create a partnership with these communities to help us identify the bad players in those communities.
Lori Garcia-McCammon, the executive director of True Ridge in Hendersonville, says while the news comes as a “let down” to the immigrant community, she’s hopeful the Sheriff will work on regaining trust.
“He hasn’t given me reason not to. He’s been very forthcoming,” Garcia-McCammon said.
Meantime, Asheville-based non-profit Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Accion also expressed disappointment in the decision. CIMA Co-director Cocó Eva Solange Alcázar says she's skeptical about the new community liaison position.
"That does not at all compensate for his decision to renew 287(g)," Alcázar said.