As Henderson County government prepares its upcoming fiscal year budget, opponents of the Sheriff’s agreement with federal immigration authorities say their tax dollars are being misused.
Social service agencies that work with the immigrant population say the 287(g) program with Immigration and Customs Enforcement leads to more crime and is unconstitutional.
Activists shouted chants from the steps of the historic courthouse, minutes before the regular county commissioners meeting.
Representatives from groups, like Henderson Resiste and the ACLU, took turns addressing what they see as the costs associated with assisting ICE.
El Centro Executive Director Sergio Fernandez says he’s seen clients in his office who fear calling law enforcement to report a crime.
“They will not call the police, and they will not call the firefighters just because they have been assaulted,” Fernandez said. “Because whatever is happening at that moment is better than being deported to their native country.”
Opponents also say the estimated $250,000 cost of the program would be better spent on other needs of the county, including education funding and combating methamphetamine.
“The most serious crime that the sheriff is very well aware of is the methamphetamines that are coming from Central America to Henderson County,” Gayle Kemp, a former Democratic candidate for state representative and El Centro board member, said.
“The Hispanic community is being victimized by these drug dealers, as Sergio Fernandez said, because those people are afraid to call the police.”
Kemp was one of three others who also spoke directly to the commissioners during the meeting. Chairman Grady Hawkins responded.
“Certainly, there’s a lot of information about 287(g) that I don’t particularly understand,” Hawkins said. “However, I’m not sure if you’re here illegally why you’re privy to the Constitution that the rest of the American people are. But that’s a question for the courts to deal with.”
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Western North Carolina, has in fact ruled that local law enforcement lacks the authority to detain anyone without a warrant signed by a judge. That means Henderson County government and the Sheriff’s department could be sued, under the Fourth Amendment, for continuing the agreement with ICE.