287(g) program causes serious immigration issues in Alamance County, N.C.

April 10, 2009 at 7:26 am 1 comment

By Patrick McCabe

Written April 9, 2009

Article available on issuu.com.

Alamance County resident Maria Perez-Mejia faces deportation due to 287(g).

County resident leaves three children behind as she is deported due to 287(g) program in Alamance County.

In Alamance County, a deputy arrested a Hispanic woman after a traffic stop on Interstate 85. Traveling with her three children, she was forced to leave them on the side of the road until their father could pick them up, eight hours later.

Marxavi Angel-Martinez and one of her children.

Marxavi Angel-Martinez and one of her children.


The women identified herself as Maria Chavira Ventura and spoke limited English. She was pulled over from driving with expired tags and was unable to produce any form of identification, registration or proof of insurance. According to authorities the only thing she was able to produce for the officer was an address in Burlington.

Ventura had lied to authorities; her real name is Maria Perez-Mejia. She was traveling from her home in western North Carolina to Maryland to visit her children’s father before she was stopped. Another man from her church was traveling with Perez-Mejia but left shortly after authorities took her to jail, leaving the children alone.

While Perez-Mejia is in the process of being deported her children will remain in the United States with relatives.

Maria Perez-Mejia is just one of the many cases that have been seen in Alamance County.

Tom Vitaglione, chairman of the state Child Fatality Task Force, fears that officers who are taking part in the 287(g) program will focus more on someone’s immigration status than protecting an innocent child involved in a case.

“Incentives are on identification and deportation rather than protection of the children, and that worries us,” Vitaglione said. “We just worry that we’re gonna have some real tragedies come down the line.”

Vitaglione fears that there may be many more cases like Perez-Mejia. Her children are just three of the victims of the new immigration laws.

William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration sympathizes with the children of the Illegal immigrants but he does not feel that the children are the victims.

“The problems that are being caused for these families and for American citizens are the results of the bad choices and criminal behavior of illegal aliens,” Gheen added. “The real victims of illegal immigration are the Americans that are losing their lives, their jobs, their wages.”

Marxavi Angel-Martinez is another Alamance County resident who has struggled to maintain legal residency. Angel-Martinez worked as a librarian in Graham and was arrested for aggravated identity theft. She told the judge that she, her sister and parents entered the United States legally when she was about 3 years old but that they later overstayed their visas.

ICE agents began investigating Angel-Martinez just after she was in court. Her immigration status came up as a result of an investigation into the use of aliases for Hispanic clients by members of the Alamance County Health’s Department.

Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson told media that a confidential source alerted him about Angel-Martinez’s immigration status and that the information had not been obtained through confidential medical records.

Angel-Martinez’s husband has also been arrested and he along with her sister and parents have entered into the deportation process.

 The truth behind the 287(g) program

287(g) plays a larger role in issues plaguing Alamance County.

The 287(g) program is only one component under the ICE ACCESS umbrella of services and programs offered for assistance to local law enforcement officers.

The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) effectively added Section 287(g) to the Immigration and Nationality Act on September 30, 1996. This authorizes the performance of immigration officer functions by state officers and employees. It also authorizes the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to enter into agreements with state and local law enforcement permitting designated officers to take on the role of immigration agents as long as they receive the proper training and function strictly under the guidance and supervision of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.

In order to become an ICE officer trainees must go through a four-week training program held at the Federal law Enforcement Training Center ICE Academy in Charleston, S.C. Officers must be United States citizens, undergo a background investigation, have two years of experience in their current position and have no pending disciplinary actions.

The 287(g) act has been credited for identifying more than 70,000 individuals who were suspected of entering the country illegally and there are currently 63 active 287(g) Memorandum of Agreements which define the limitations of designated authority. Throughout the United States more than 840 officers have been trained and certified thru the 287(g) program. There are eight MOA’s in North Carolina alone and in Alamance County a jail enforcement officer MOA was implemented January 10, 2007.

Alamance County reacts to the 287(g) program

287(g) program causes a lot of controversy in Alamance County for all residents.

Alamance County has seen its own share of immigration issues and many members of the county refuse to sit back and let these issues go unnoticed.

Elon University political science professor, Laura Roselle works as an advocate for immigration issues. While studying at Stanford this past summer, Roselle was made aware of immigration issues in Alamance County, especially the story of librarian Marxavi Angel-Martinez.

“Her story was so compelling. Her documentation was never right, she couldn’t get it right,” said Roselle. “She was caught in a circumstance that just seemed so horrible.”

Roselle began to research other cases involving section 287(g) and was horrified by the results. As she got further into her research, Roselle began to look to the local government for answers.

“I was just so unable to get my questions answered,” said Roselle. “The issue then became more about local government and transparency.”

Section 287(g) was created to allow police officials to remove illegal immigrants who partake in criminal activities and are seen as a threat to society.

“People thought that it would make [the county] safer but that is not what happened,” said Roselle.

Racial profiling has become a serious issue when looking at section 287(g). Roadblocks have been set up near the Burlington Flea Market and police officials are checking licenses of any individual they expect to be illegal.

When questioned about the issue, Alamance County Sherriff, Terry Johnson refused to comment.

“He is extremely hard to get a hold of,” said Elon University senior and immigrant activist Kelly McCarty. “We struggle to get him to answer any of our questions.”

McCarty and Roselle are both members of Fairness Alamance, a coalition of Alamance County residents who are dedicated to promoting fairness and equality in Alamance County and beyond.

“As a Spanish major, I got involved volunteering as an assistant ESOL teacher in Alamance County,” said McCarty. “I dealt with legal and illegal students and this experience made me realize what a big issue this is.”

As one of two college-aged students in Fairness Alamance, McCarty is working to raise awareness on university campuses.

“I became a part of the Coalition for College Access, which works to promote collegiate education for all students, regardless of their immigration status,” said McCarty. “While there is no chapter at Elon, I am actively involved in the chapter at Chapel Hill.” Alamance county residents are pretty torn on this issue. Both Hispanic and Caucasian residents are up in arms about the issue of immigration.

At an Alamance County Board of Commissioners meeting held earlier this year residents voiced their opinions on the immigration issue.

“A large segment of this community is now afraid,” a Latino resident told commissioners.

“This 287(g) program is tearing families apart,” another resident said.

While there are many advocates for assisting illegal immigrants others are in favor of law enforcement efforts. At the commissioners meeting others shared their stories of crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

“My wife gets a letter. There are two individuals in this country illegally using her Social Security number,” a person told the crowd.

The issues that plague Alamance County are just some of the issues that surround the 287(g) program of the Immigration and Nationality Act. How Alamance County will handle illegal immigration is still up in the air but it is an issue that will remain at the forefront of many county officials and residents minds.

Roselle’s independent study challenges Sheriff Johnson’s report

Elon University professor faces off against Alamance County Sheriff terry Johnson on immigration issues.

Elon professor Laura Roselle’s independent research on 287(g) and enforcement in Alamance County has provided new challenges to Sheriff Terry Johnson. Roselle conducted a study to analyze traffic data using information filed with the state government and found that 850 traffic violations went unreported by Sheriff Johnson.

Alamance County Commissioners meeting.

Alamance County Commissioners meeting.

Roselle has worked very closely, analyzing information from the county sheriff’s office in order to ensure that all citizens are being treated as equals, no matter their race. She is concerned that the big difference in figures puts the sheriff’s accountability into question.

“There are many good people working in the sheriff’s office,” Roselle said. “They work so hard to protect and defend and it is unfortunate that the entire department has become wrapped up in this issue.”

Roselle and other immigration advocates claim that Johnson and his deputies are racially profiling Hispanic individuals.

Johnson has attempted to prove that he and his deputies are not racially profiling in order to catch illegal immigrant suspects. He accuses Roselle as attacking the government.

“This is absurd and goes against the very moral fiber our country was founded upon,” he said of illegal immigration.

An investigation was conducted by Roselle, comparing numbers reported by Johnson and reported by the state government.

Roselle was shocked by the results of her investigation.

“I attempted to contact Sheriff Johnson but I was never able to get a response out of him,” Roselle said. “I just couldn’t believe my findings.”

Roselle’s continued frustration with the Alamance County sheriff’s department led to much of her research.

She continues to face off with Sheriff Johnson and his office at County Commissioners meetings.

“The people of Alamance County deserve better,” Roselle said. “Yet they are not getting it.”

Roselle will continue her efforts until she feels justice is being served to all Alamance County residents.





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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Janna  |  April 19, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I already provided some written comments to you earlier that you might want to apply here, but I also want to emphasize that you need to get the word “immigration” into the headline – the word “controversy” would probably be good, too.


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