by Laura Camilo
In a letter sent last week to the U.S. Department of Homeland Securitys Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties , the Southern Poverty Law Center demanded reform for Mecklenburg Countys 287(g) program. What lit the spark of the SPLCs outrage? That would be the case of Abel Moreno, the 29-year-old Mexican immigrant who, upon trying to report the sexual abuse of his girlfriend by the now former Charlotte police officer Marcus Jackson, was instead taken to jail and kept there for six days, as reported by Charlotte-based Spanish-language newspaper Mi Gente. He was only released from jail after others came forth to speak out against Jackson and his history of sexual misbehavior while on duty.
We call upon the Department to investigate this case and to terminate the 287(g) agreement with Mecklenburg County We also call upon the Department to enact clear regulations to protect crime victims and witnesses from being placed in immigration proceedings when they come forward in good faith to report crime. The absence of such guidelines leads to further abuse of victims, undermines trust in the police, and leads to greater crime against people who are perceived to be undocumented.
According to CharMeck.org, the program is run by the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office and allows law enforcement officers to carry out the same duties as Federal ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) Agents. This is hardly the first time 287(g) has been scrutinized. Public opinion varies between those who believe 287(g) is an efficient way to punish criminals for their crimes, and those who believe that it unfairly racially profiles and targets the Latino community.
Other counties, like Wake, have also implemented its policies. The SPLC, however, is of the opinion that North Carolina
Is a locality which has shown a brazen lack of regard for the civil rights of its community members. Clearly, Mr. Moreno should not have been arrested. Once it was determined that he was falsely arrested, he should have been released immediately A February 2009 study by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Immigration and Human Rights Policy Clinic at UNC-Chapel Hill explains in detail how the program in North Carolina fails to adhere to its own legally defined standards. As part of the Memorandum of Agreement signed with the federal government, local law enforcement is required to implement complaint mechanisms, publicize officials functions, outline how certification takes place, provide for interpreters, create a steering committee and even allow for modification of the memorandum itself with public input. None of this has taken place in North Carolina.
Immigration reform has become one of the nations most sensitive issues, with Arizonas recent changes in legislation making the most headlines. Closer to home, it is becoming ever more clear that a change has got to come.