CORRECTION: Agudas Israel Congregation is not participating in the petition effort, as stated in the story.
When the new Henderson County sheriff takes over next week, some in the community want him to end the county’s partnership with federal immigration authorities that began in 2008 under Sheriff Rick Davis.
First Congregational United Church of Christ in Hendersonville is urging Sheriff-elect Lowell Griffin to rescind that agreement with ICE once he’s sworn in Dec. 3, with members collecting signatures to that effect.
In a letter to Griffin, the church notes that the agreement is currently in effect until June 2019 unless terminated by either party. In an email, co-chairs of the church’s Compassionate Action Team Stephanie Lowder and Bal Goleman note that in the other five counties with 287(g) programs, incumbent sheriffs also lost their elections.
Transition Pastor Mike Cleland at First Congregational said the congregation is very concerned about the interpretation of the agreement, especially in light of the ICE raids in April that he said brought the issue to a head. The raids further impassioned them to get involved with El Centro, Immaculate Conception Church and St. James Episcopal Church to form rapid response teams that would be engaged in the case of future actions.
The effort began with the church’s Compassionate Action Team, he said. The letter went through a few different iterations before taking its final form, including the proclamation that’s gathering signatures. Last Sunday, the number of signatures was around 60, and the church is hoping to get as many as possible before it’s presented to Griffin either Monday or Tuesday.
Others have also signed on to help, including the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hendersonville, Immaculate Conception and Agudas Israel Congregation.
On Monday, Griffin said he needs to study the contract in detail and isn’t yet making a decision either way. He added that he has concerns about how much Henderson County taxpayers are paying for what he sees as a service the federal government already provides and the county, through the 287(g) program, is now duplicating.
“Part of this contract actually obligates us to operate the detention center in certain ways that cost our taxpayers out of pocket,” he said.
With today’s technology, he said, when someone is arrested, the county is able to transmit that information directly to the federal government through normal arrest procedures. He stressed that the transmittal would only occur for any person arrested and placed in the detention center for another crime unrelated to immigration status.
Then the federal government can decide whether to place a detainer on someone due to immigration status, Griffin said.
Moving forward, he plans to sit down and review the contract closely, but doesn’t know that anything will happen before this summer.
The 287(g) program screens for foreign-born persons once they’re arrested for a local criminal charge and hands them over to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to begin the deportation process if they’re found to be in the country illegally.
During his campaign, First Congregational noted, Griffin made a number of comments about the program, including “The Latino community, I don’t think people understand the economic impact they have. There are industries that would fold without these folks, who have become a huge part of our community. We have to earn their trust ... I don’t want to use (the ICE 287g agreement) as a tactic that’s going to intimidate the Latino community that this county relies so heavily on.”
The church’s letter to Griffin also notes that upon defeating McDonald in the May primary elections, Griffin said he would look into the program in detail, and that he doesn’t want to “use it as a punitive measure.”
The letter also states that there are five local ICE enforcement officers whose salaries are paid by county taxpayers. But Griffin said those positions would remain even without the 287(g) program, and the 287(g)-related duties of those officers are only peripheral responsibilities for them.
“That wouldn’t change, but is that the most efficient use of this peripheral duty?” Griffin said, adding that it’s just one of the issues where the program is a burden to county taxpayers.
The letter points out that more than 10,000 Hispanic residents make up roughly 10 percent of the county’s population. It also cites the April arrests of 15 Hispanic persons in Henderson and Buncombe counties. It quotes local immigrant advocacy and faith organizations that report Hispanics and immigrants are “intimidated and don’t want to come out of their houses, not even to meet their daily needs,” a statement made by Bruno Hinojosa of Companeros Inmigrantes de las Montanas en Accion.
Immigrants have stopped going to school or church, the letter says. It also says a county teacher has told the church that “she is seriously concerned that many Hispanic students appear to remain too fearful to fully participate.”
According to the letter, Hinojosa also reports that roadblocks continue to be spotted and reported, and that local officers “stop Latinos to ask them for the whereabouts of people on their target list and then ask where they’re from. If they give the wrong answer, they end up in cuffs ... They used to go door to door, but now they’re following people who they believe might be immigrants and pulling them over on the way to work.”