CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Protesters recently stormed the Mecklenburg County Jail, upset with a program that they said targets innocent people.
The program, 287(g), allows deputies to run a suspect's name through immigration databases to determine if they're undocumented.
Sheriff Irwin Carmichael is fighting back against protesters, saying the program takes murderers, rapists and pedophiles off the street.
“A person will never encounter the 287(g) program unless they get arrested for breaking the law,” Carmichael said.
The sheriff and immigrant advocates railed at the same time Tuesday about the controversial program.
One of the more contentious points of 287(g) is that someone who is not a citizen has to answer more questions in order for law enforcement to figure out whether they're in the country legally.
That information is relayed to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Deputies who were in the jail lobby told protesters they had to take the protest elsewhere, or go to jail.
"It's a program that is criminalizing mothers and fathers and separating them from their children," protester Stefania Arteaga said.
The demonstrators took the advice given by the deputies and left.
Carmichael said deputies do not discriminate and that they ask everyone their immigration status.
"Every person, every person is asked the same two questions,” Carmichael said. “Every person is fingerprinted, photographed, so we know exactly who is in the jail."
Carmichael stood in front of a display of some of the undocumented suspects, who are accused of murder, rape, arson and other serious crimes.
"Wouldn't you want us to know everyone’s criminal background?” the sheriff said. “It is the only source I have for foreign-born individuals."
"For me to listen to law enforcement act like the only people caught up in this program are serious criminals, makes me angry because it's a lie," immigration attorney Becca O’Neil said.
O'Neill is with the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, one of more than 30 groups that signed the letter to the sheriff explaining their opposition. O'Neill said she sees 287(g) casualties every day, such as people arrested for minor crimes who are either cleared, deported, or locked away for months without due process.
Gary McFadden, a former CMPD homicide investigator who is running for sheriff, said the vast majority of law enforcement agencies in the country don't use 287(g).
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