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Re-examining 287(g)

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If I drive drunk, endangering the lives of everyone else on the road, should I have to identify myself to a police officer who stops me? Or what if I run a stop sign? Should I be allowed to drive off into the night?

If you answered "no" to those questions, then you support the supposedly "controversial" 287(g) immigration program.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg is "a locality which has shown a brazen lack of regard for the civil rights of its community members," Southern Poverty Law Center legal director Mary Bauer recently wrote to the federal government.

The group, headquartered in Alabama, is asking the federal government to end the 287(g) immigration program that identifies illegal aliens in the Mecklenburg County jail. They say the program is inhumane because it supposedly targets people according to their ethnicity and puts them into the pipeline for deportation for minor traffic offenses.

Nothing could be further from the truth. What the program does is simply apply our laws to illegal aliens in the same way they are applied to American citizens. Without the program, illegal aliens can potentially get a pass on laws regular citizens must comply with, creating a dual justice system that could punish illegal aliens less for the same crimes.

As a citizen, if I'm caught driving drunk or running a stop sign, I must produce a license and face the penalties -- legal requirements no one finds controversial. As a citizen, if I refused to provide a license or didn't have one, I'd be escorted down to the county jail by my arresting officer, grilled by sheriff's deputies and my name and fingerprints would be run against a database of citizens. At that time, if I had outstanding warrants or a criminal history, the police would know who I was and what I had done.

If those laws apply to citizens, shouldn't they apply to illegal aliens? Right now, everyone who won't or can't provide identification to the police is brought down to the jail. The 287(g) program merely runs those who don't turn up in the first database of citizens against another international database. To do anything less would be to apply a special, lighter set of rules and laws to those in this country illegally than the ones the rest of us must follow.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Chipp Bailey is particularly perturbed by criticism that the 287(g) program he runs targets illegal immigrants merely for driving offenses. He disagrees with those who say 287(g) should only be used to identify those who are arrested for serious crimes, not traffic offenses. (Being here illegally, by the way, means driving illegally, too, since you must be a citizen to get a driver's license in North Carolina. Citizens who drive without a license can be brought down to the sheriff's office as well.)

"We've had people brought into our jail because they have no operator's license -- they like to use that example -- and they were wanted for serious crimes in other states and the only way we were able to identify them was through the 287(g)," Bailey said. "Another thing they say is the 287(g) program deports people. That's not true. The 287(g) program identifies people; we notify [immigration officials and those officials] make the decision on whether or not they are going to deport people. There is no way we profile them. We ask everyone the same questions."

Before the 287(g) program began, Bailey said, the sheriff's office became concerned because the illegal immigrant population was building up in our jail and no one knew who these people were.

"We didn't know if they were gang members or anything else, and the way we had to do it then was we had to notify ICE and get them by telephone," Bailey said. "It would take a day or two to get that information back -- if they were here illegally, if they were wanted somewhere, if they committed a serious crime in their native country -- and by that time, they have made bond [and] they are back out on the streets. Once they are gone, they are not going to wait around for us to identify them."

That can have serious consequences. Illegal immigrant drunk driver Jovany Morales crossed the center lane on North Tryon Street and slammed head on into Frank "Buddy" Cline in 2004, killing him. Then Morales, who initially gave sheriff's deputies a fake name, skipped out on bond and wasn't heard from again for six years until he was arrested on a domestic violence charge a few weeks ago. News 14 Carolina reported that witnesses said Morales, who was drunk at the time, attempted to get in a car and drive away.

Angela Cline, Frank's wife, was eight months pregnant when her husband was killed. All of this happened before the implementation of the 287(g) program in 2006. Angela Cline, whom I spoke with on my WBT radio show last week, isn't eager to go back to those days.

Are you?

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