RALEIGH — Federal immigration officials said Wednesday that they have blocked a North Carolina sheriff’s access to the federal database used to check whether arrestees are in the country illegally.
The move comes after a two-year U.S. Department of Justice investigation determined that Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson illegally targeted and arrested Latinos without probable cause to boost deportations. Johnson has been a vocal supporter of the federal 287(g) program, which trained local law enforcement officers to perform immigration checks.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said Wednesday the agency’s 287(g) contract with Alamance County had been terminated, effective immediately. The two-year contract had been set to expire in October.
Federal authorities will now check the immigration status of those booked at the county jail, with an emphasis on deporting only those accused of serious crimes.
“ICE will utilize federal resources for the purpose of identifying and detaining those individuals who meet ICE immigration enforcement priorities,” Gonzalez said. “The department will continue to enforce federal immigration laws in Alamance County in smart, effective ways that focus our resources on criminal aliens, recent border crossers, repeat and egregious immigration law violators and employers who knowingly hire illegal labor.”
In an 11-page report issued Tuesday, the Justice Department said Johnson abused his authority granted under 287(g), ordering his deputies to arrest motorists who appeared Latino — even for minor traffic infractions — while letting white drivers off with warnings.
“If you stop a Mexican, don’t write a citation, arrest him,” the sheriff is quoted as telling supervisors within his department, according to the federal report.
His deputies, in turn, were as much as 10 times more likely to stop Latino drivers than non-Latinos, according the federal review of the department’s traffic stop records. Hispanics make up only 11 percent of the population in Alamance County, which is located about an hour’s drive northwest of Raleigh.
According to the federal report, Johnson also referred to Latinos as “taco eaters” prone to drinking, drug dealing and other crimes. He ordered special roadblocks in neighborhoods were Latinos live, during which those with brown skin were stopped while whites were waved through.
A Republican first elected in 2002, Johnson suggested the probe was a political attack by the Obama Administration and denied his department has ever discriminated against “Spanish speaking persons.”
Following widespread complaints of racial profiling, ICE announced earlier this this year it was discontinuing the 287(g) program, which was initiated during the administration of President George W. Bush. Under the new program called Secure Communities, ICE will electronically receive fingerprints and other information from jails and then federal authorities will determine whom to detain for immigration violations.
The report issued this week recommended a list of steps to end discrimination by Johnson’s department, including remedial training, new internal procedures for recognizing and investigating civil rights violations and community outreach. If Alamance fails to reach a negotiated settlement, the federal government could sue the county.