Wake County is helping to deport people for minor traffic violations. It shouldn’t.

Gerald M. Baker, left, and Donnie Harrison
Gerald M. Baker, left, and Donnie Harrison

Each year, Wake County residents pay $1,941,054 to deport their neighbors, according to my calculations. In the sheriff election, Wake voters can decide whether to reinforce that policy.

Wake Sheriff Donnie Harrison has been at the forefront of federal immigration authority’s cooperation with local law enforcement. County sheriffs have a number of voluntary decisions when working with federal immigration enforcement. In November 2007, Harrison first received financial support from the Wake County Board of Commissioners to hire 12 full-time 287(g) officers, who could act as federal immigration agents. At the time, North Carolina had the most sheriffs making this voluntary decision.

This program is still voluntary — only 3 percent of the country’s more than 3,000 sheriffs have implemented 287(g), none in places that share Wake’s progressive values. And Harrison has not stopped at 287(g) in finding ways to voluntary break up immigrant families. He was the first sheriff in the nation to adopt Secure Communities, which sends fingerprint information to a variety of agencies to help determine a person’s immigration status for deportation purposes.

As soon as he implemented the 287(g) program, Harrison began helping to deport people accused of minor offenses. By 2009, 80 percent of undocumented people deported through the sheriff’s office were accused of misdemeanor offenses and approximately 50 percent of those were from minor traffic enforcement violations (more than a quarter of initial arrests were for no operator’s license, no insurance, no registration, driving while license revoked, a fictitious tag, a broken tail light, or some other minor traffic violation).

Over the last four years, Harrison has removed more than 1,500 of our undocumented neighbors, according to his own data presented to 287(g) steering committee.

And what does this cost Wake County taxpayers? A 2010 study by Hannah Gill and Mai Thi Nguyen attempted to estimate the costs of the 287(g) program by understanding the costs of personnel, training and detention. Another study from CASA de Maryland added additional costs for potential foster care for children of immigrants that have been arrested.

I am a professor of sociology, specializing in how law enforcement intersects with the immigration system, and have recreated this methodology to estimate the costs of 287(g) for Wake County. I estimate that the annual cost for the program was $1,941,054. Calculation:

  • 2016 average salary of detention officer level 3: $45,007.

  • 17 active officers in 2015.

  • 2016 total ICE eligible inmate days from SCAAP Awards: 12,412.

  • Per day jail estimate for 2016-2017: $90 (April 10 N&O story said “just shy of $100”).

  • 4 weeks of basic training for active officers ($58,855).

  • Salary ($45,007 x 17) + Training ($58,855) + Cost of Detention (12,412 x $90)= $1,941,054.

And, finally, what are we paying for? Exhaustive research has shown that 287(g) has no effects on crime rates. In fact, it can harm policing by decreasing crime reporting from Hispanic families. During my research, I interviewed Wake County residents, trying to understand support or opposition to the 287(g) program. Community members say:

  • It separates families.

  • Deportation priorities are not followed and are unclear.

  • ICE does not properly monitor the local implementation of the program.

  • 287(g) officer training is inadequate.

  • It wastes taxpayer money.

  • It gives additional authority to local law enforcement.

How can we stand by and allow the separation of families, while Wake County runs out of money for other priorities? And why are we punishing individuals for driving without a license when our state legislature says that they cannot have a license?

Wake voters will have a choice of Harrison or Gerald Baker, the Democratic nominee who has promised to end 287(g). Voters can answer these questions.

Felicia Arriaga is assistant professor of sociology at Appalachian State University, where her research focuses on criminalization of immigration law and procedure.