November 11, 2011
Gustavo Maldonado Jr. is nearing a rite of passage that most teens can’t wait to complete.
The Harrisonburg High School junior could soon have his driver’s license. Excitement is met with trepidation, though, as his Hispanic friends have shared stories about what they say are unjustified stops by police. A federal program enforced by the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office is the culprit, they claim.
“It’s getting worse,” said Maldonado, 16. “It’s not helping anyone.”
He was among about 60 people to attend an immigration reform event hosted by the Virginia Organizing Project at Clementine Café in Harrisonburg Wednesday night. A brief discussion about the program, dubbed 287g, followed a viewing of a documentary on immigration filmed in Prince William County.
The 287g initiative, named for the section of the code where it is found, is a collaborative effort between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local police agencies that ask to be a part of it.
The program trains local police officers and deputies to enforce immigration law otherwise conducted by federal authorities.
Rockingham County joined the 287g program in 2007, and while its intent is to detain illegal immigrants who have been arrested for other crimes, those at Clementine on Wednesday said it promotes racial profiling, leading some immigrants to fear contacting police or emergency personnel when they need help.
“We know the negative impact this has on our community,” said Rick Castaneda, a city advocate for Hispanic youth. “We have seen that trust erode in law enforcement.”
Criminals’ ‘Worst Nightmare’
Rockingham County Sheriff Don Farley met with representatives of the Virginia Organizing Project on Thursday. Farley said it was a positive meeting — even if it did, he said, sometimes go around in circles — with both sides agreeing on certain points.
But the assertion that the sheriff’s office is targeting immigrants for anything beyond actual crimes is false, Farley said.
Through October, the office had arrested 1,458 foreign nationals since given the authority to enforce the ICE program in August 2007. Of that number, 514 people were placed on detainers, and about 260 were deported, Farley said.
A detainer is a request that ICE be made aware of an arrest before someone is released from custody.
Ten nationalities were represented in October’s arrest figure through 287g, which the sheriff said is a sign that deputies are not profiling Hispanics.
Farley insisted that the program does not target illegal immigrants who are following laws. The focus is on those brought to jail after an arrest.
“Those are the ones I want to be their worst nightmare,” Farley said.
The Virginia Organizing Project event served as the launch of the advocacy group’s campaign to remove 287g in the six Virginia localities that have it.
James Madison University social work majors who work as interns for VOP organized Wednesday’s gathering. JMU senior Liz Coates said reform supporters plan to speak to Rockingham County Sheriff-elect Bryan Hutcheson about ending the county’s agreement with ICE.
Farley, however, said without 287g, the process of determining the legal status of someone arrested would take much longer and tax already strained financial and personnel resources.
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org