Update: In the primaries held on May 8, both Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael and Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews were defeated, thus putting the 287(g) programs in both counties in jeopardy.
This year’s primaries for sheriff in Durham and Mecklenburg Counties will not come down to a choice between Republican and Democrat, rather which candidate is for working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.
With no Republicans running in either race, the challengers have attacked the extent to which the current sheriffs have cooperated with federal immigration law enforcement officers, particularly concerning the 287(g) program.
For months, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael has been under constant assault from radical Left protestors and the organized efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The 287(g) program, an initiative created by Congress that allows local police and sheriffs’ departments to inform federal officials of deportable aliens in their custody, has existed in the county since 2006. At the time, law enforcement were only able to identify one-third of those deportable aliens in jails.
While Carmichael has consistently defended the practice – even holding press conferences to explain the program, his challengers Garry McFadden and Antoine Ensley have been unrelenting in their attacks on his position.
With no Republican running, Tuesday’s winner is virtually guaranteed a four-year term and that has attracted outside money and no-border activists.
In April, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched a six-figure advertising campaign “to ensure immigrant communities know their legal rights” when dealing with ICE. In addition to North Carolina, the ads are being aired in Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
And while the ACLU’s North Carolina chapter also began distributing a candidate scorecard and working with Action NC to “educate voters” about the race, the national arm, according to Politico, poured $175,000 into a radio ad campaign.
The ad alleges Sheriff Carmichael of being part of “Trump’s deportation force” and “detaining people for deportation, tearing families apart,” while wasting “our law enforcement resources putting everyone’s safety at risk.”
“We feel like the best way to get rid of the program is to get a new sheriff, somebody that understands that the program is not working.” said Oliver Merino, an organizer with the no-border activist group Comunidad Colectiva.
In Durham County, incumbent Sheriff Mike Andrews has defended his department’s decision to honor ICE detainers, but has tried to straddle the fence.
In a candidate questionnaire, Andrews noted that he tried “on several occasions to reach out to ICE and determine a hierarchy” of the suspects ICE was seeking, but to no avail.
Andrews, who has been in office since 2011, argued it was in the interest of public safety to allow ICE to detain a suspect in jail, rather than to deny federal requests and force agents to pursue suspected criminals in communities.
That, he said, would lead to more fear and “will cause undue stress to the children of these individuals and the community at large.”
On Sunday, Andrews reiterated that stance on Facebook by saying he would not place “other family members, grandparents, parents or children in harm’s way for someone else’s mistake.”
For his challenger and fellow Democrat Clarence Birkhead, obstruction is the only acceptable course of action.
“I will make a clear and uncompromising commitment to not cooperate with ICE. As sheriff, I will not honor ICE detainers and we will not participate in ICE roundups,” said Birkhead in answers submitted to INDYWeek.
Who wins will be known on Wednesday, but we know today that these will not be the last races on the local, state, or national level that will be determined on how a candidate chooses to address our failed immigration policy.