Newly elected Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker said Friday that his office will no longer participate in a controversial immigration program.
For years Wake has been part of 287(g), which allows local law enforcement agencies to partner with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to identify and eventually deport people living in the country illegally who have been charged with a crime.
Baker announced the end of Wake’s participation at a news conference Friday afternoon.
“We serve a lot of communities,” Baker said as he stood next to Uriel Rodriguez, a middle school student he met while campaigning. “We want to make it so that the Wake County Sheriff’s Office treats everybody the same and improves the quality of life for each and every person. It’s about humanity. It’s about just caring for people. That’s a large part of what this office will be doing, moving forward.”
The Durham County Sheriff’s Office also said in a press release Friday that newly elected Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead would end the practice of honoring ICE detainers.
Durham County has not participated in 287(g), but it used detainers to hold suspects up to an additional 48 hours so ICE could take them into custody.
Under the new plan, “absent of a court order or arrest warrant signed by a judicial official any person who has had their criminal charges disposed of or who has made bond will not be held beyond the normal timetable for release,” according to the statement.
In Wake, the sheriff’s office said it would honor “lawfully issued” detainers for the 90 jail inmates currently being held under 287(g).
Baker promised to review the cases to ensure the detainers were lawful.
Immigration was a hot topic in sheriffs’ races across North Carolina during this fall’s election.
In Wake County, Baker, a Democrat, defeated longtime Republican incumbent Donnie Harrison.
Wake began participating in 287(g) under Harrison, who argued that it helped his office identify inmates who give an alias and were in the U.S. illegally.
The ACLU spent $100,000 for a local radio advertisement that accused Harrison of “tearing families apart and stoking racial tensions” by participating in 287(g).
The announcements from Baker and Birkhead came two days after Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden said his office will no longer be part of the program. ICE quickly criticized McFadden’s decision, calling it “an open invitation to aliens who commit criminal offenses,” the Charlotte Observer reported.
The ACLU also paid for a similar advertisement that aired in May during the sheriff’s race in Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte. McFadden defeated the incumbent.
Immigration advocates and others who opposed 287(g) in Wake praised Baker on Friday.
“The sheriff has kept his campaign promise,” said, Rick Brown, attorney for Baker.
At the end of the news conference, Baker put his arm around the shoulders of Uriel Rodriguez while the two posed for a picture.
“It will help the community a lot,” Uriel said.