Photo: Alamance County Sheriff
A immigrant-advocacy group that has denounced racial profiling of Hispanics by a North Carolina sheriff’s office urged local authorities to reconsider their refusal to negotiate with the Justice Department, which issued a report confirming the allegations and threatening a lawsuit.
Ben Ansbacher, a member of the group Fairness Alamance, founded in 2007 to denounce unjustified arrests of Latinos by the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office, said Friday in a press conference that county commissioners should “stop spending taxpayers’ money on lawyers and reach a solution.”
His remarks came two days after the attorney for Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson announced that the lawman would not negotiate a settlement with the Justice Department, which said last week it determined his office violated Hispanics’ constitutional rights.
“The Alamance County Sheriff’s Office does not discriminate against any persons, including Spanish-speaking individuals. As such, my client does not believe that any ‘negotiated settlement’ is necessary or advisable,” attorney S.C. Kitchen said.
Johnson has until Sunday to either agree to sit down with Justice officials and discuss possible changes in his office’s policy toward Hispanics or face a lawsuit.
Fairness Alamance, the ACLU and other groups have been denouncing illegal practices by Johnson’s office since it implemented the 287(g) program - which permits law enforcement personnel to determine the immigration status of people they detain - in 2007.
Several studies show that most unauthorized immigrants identified by 287(g) in Alamance County had been arrested for driving without a license and other minor traffic offenses.
Justice began investigating the groups’ allegations in 2010 and two years later had gathered sufficient evidence to conclude there was “a pattern or practice of misconduct that violates the Constitution and federal law.”
It found that Johnson’s office set up frequent checkpoints near Hispanic neighborhoods with the goal of arresting Latinos, taking them to jail to be identified by 287(g) and having them deported.
Immigration attorney Marty Rosenbluth, who has represented several Hispanics identified by 287(g) in Alamance, told Efe Friday that “if the sheriff has nothing to hide, it’s best that he meet with the feds.”
“Not even ICE tolerates his practices,” Rosenbluth said, referring to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s decision to cancel the 287(g) agreement with the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office.
Johnson is a popular Republican sheriff who was first elected in 2002 and has since earned a reputation for making life difficult for Hispanics, who make up 11 percent of the county’s population.