Jesse James Deconto, News & Observer (Raleigh), December 15, 2009
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has identified 280 illegal immigrants in its jail and turned over a dozen of them to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since joining the federal government’s Secure Communities program in March.
“We’re not out here pulling up on a construction job trying to pull Hispanics every day,” said Sheriff Lindy Pendergrass. “We are not running an immigration program going out here and snatching people off the street.”
Tonight the Orange County commissioners will consider recommendations from the county’s Human Relations Commission to make sure the sheriff’s department’s implementation is “as transparent and socially just as possible.”
The commission is asking the county to:
Ask the sheriff’s office to issue citations, rather than making arrests, for minor misdemeanors such as driving without a license. The city of Durham has already adopted this policy.
Keep tabs on the number and types of criminals being detained through the program every three months.
Establish a complaint procedure for cases involving racial profiling or minor offenses.
Give officers training to avoid profiling.
“Because the consequences of someone being arrested . . . can now include deportation and the separation of families, it is essential that local law enforcement officers exercise a high level of vigilance to prevent racial profiling,” the commission wrote in a memo to the county commissioners.
Pendergrass said most of the recommendations are unnecessary because racial profiling is not a problem in his department and deputies are already issuing citations where appropriate. Of 221 Hispanics stopped in traffic over the past two years, 143 have been issued warnings and not even citations, he said. Those stops make up about 15.5 percent of the total stops for all ethnicities. Hispanics comprise 6.3 percent of the county’s population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but census figures for Hispanics are often lower than the actual population because undocumented immigrants are difficult to survey.