Will a racist get back his power to deport?

June 20, 2018

Angry protests greeted the news that a North Carolina county sheriff may be allowed back into the deportation business. Mara García Viloria and Joel Sronce explain.

NOT EVEN the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had any doubts about calling Terry Johnson a racist.

Johnson, the sheriff of Alamance County in central North Carolina, located between Greensboro and Raleigh-Durham, runs a department that the DOJ accused of “engag[ing] in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing,” including “a culture of discrimination against Latinos.”

That got Johnson kicked out the Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s the 287(g) program, which allows a state or local law enforcement agency to become a partner with ICE and gain authority for immigration enforcement within its jurisdiction.

ICE calls the 287(g) program one of its most important initiatives, so there couldn’t have been much doubt about the evidence of racist discrimination that got Sheriff Johnson expelled from it.

Protesters rally in Graham, North Carolina, against the anti-immigrant 287(g) program
Protesters rally in Graham, North Carolina, against the anti-immigrant 287(g) program (Siembra NC)

But that was back in 2012, under the Obama administration, when the DOJ maintained a semblance of concern about civil rights enforcement.

Now the Justice Department is run by arch-racist Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.

And guess what? He wants Sheriff Johnson back in the deportation business.


ACCORDING TO a study by two University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers, arrest records for the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department between 2007 and 2011 found that 2,109 people were interviewed on the authority of the 287(g) program — and deportation proceedings were launched against 1,622.

Compare that to nearby Durham County, where the population is 50 percent larger, but only 430 immigrants were brought in for questioning under 287(g) and 106 were processed for deportation during roughly the same time period.

Alamance County had fewer than 17,000 Latinx residents at the time — so Johnson is guilty of deporting nearly 10 percent of the county’s Latinx population.

According to the DOJ’s report issued in 2012, Latinx people were up to 10 times more likely to get pulled over than other drivers. “Discriminatory activities are intentional and motivated by the sheriff’s prejudices against Latinos,” the report bluntly stated.

Just how prejudiced? One DOJ allegation cited Johnson, who has been sheriff since 2002, telling deputies at a checkpoint to “go out there and get me some of those taco eaters.”

In 2012, the New Yorker compared Johnson to Joe Arpaio, the hateful former sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, notorious for boasting about his use of a tent city to house inmates in conditions described as similar to the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

Arpaio was found guilty of criminal contempt by a federal judge in relation to systematic civil rights violations and fatal negligence toward those he imprisoned.

But, of course, he was famously pardoned last year by none other than Donald Trump — giving a clear indication about the concern about civil rights enforcement in the Trump White House, if any more evidence was needed.

Inevitably, as North Carolina’s Indy Week reported, “after Jeff Sessions took over the Justice Department, the DOJ asked the [Alamance County] Sheriff’s Office to rejoin the 287(g) program.”

And now, six years after getting the boot, Sheriff Johnson has applied to rejoin the program under an administration where racism is normalized.


ON JUNE 13, more than 150 people gathered outside the J.B. Allen Jr. Court House in Graham, North Carolina, to send a message of resistance against Sheriff Johnson and the 287(g) program.

Among the speakers was, Gerónima, whose husband was recently detained by ICE. Speaking through an interpreter, she said: “I am here to say that I don’t want [287(g)]. I don’t want other families to be subjected to the same pain that I have, because it hurts a lot to be separated from your family. They don’t consider our families. We aren’t important to them.”

The demonstrators wore shirts representing activist groups from across the region, including Mijente, an organization advocating for families that have been victims of ICE; Siembra NC, a local immigrants rights group; Down Home NC, a community organizing project; Operation Transparency, a Greensboro-based police-accountability initiative; the North Carolina Association of Educators; the International Socialist Organization; and more. The protest also marked a stop of a national tour organized by Mijente under the slogan “Chinga la Migra” (“Fuck the Migra”).

Another speaker, Matt Casella, a high school chemistry teacher in Alamance County and member of the Greensboro ISO, remembered what he had heard at the county commissioners’ budget hearing a few days before.

“Alamance County said they don’t have the money to spend on public education,” he told the crowd, “but somehow, they have money to spend on the 287(g) program. Does this county want to support the community that lives here or do they want to arrest their own people? If we can’t finance our public schools, then we absolutely can’t finance 287(g).”

Many of Casella’s Latinx students have already had trouble finding school transportation, while some also juggle their schoolwork with jobs and other ways to help support their families. The reinstitution of 287(g) would make their daily struggle to get by more burdensome and fraught with fear and danger.

Between the lively songs of a mariachi band that came out in support of the protesters, demonstrators chanted and sang a variety of slogans and songs. Among the crowd favorites were: “Si quieres tacos, tacos te damos” (“If tacos is what you want, then tacos is what we will give you”) and “Querías tacos y aquí estamos” (“You wanted tacos? Well, here we are”).

Seemingly out of nowhere, a tray of tacos appeared, complete with little flags reading “No 287(g).” Protesters marched the short distance between the courthouse and detention center to deliver Sheriff Johnson what he really seems to want: tacos.


OUTSIDE THE courthouse in Graham sits a monument dedicated to the soldiers from Alamance County who died in U.S. wars — including the Civil War, in which North Carolina, of course, fought on the side of the Confederacy.

Those who sponsored the memorial had the audacity to state in their inscription that those who killed in these wars “died in defense of our freedom.”

But unlike the Confederate “heroes” who fought to maintain the institution of slavery, it’s the supporters of immigrant rights who gathered at the courthouse on June 13 who are fighting in defense of freedom.

Whether they are immigrants or not, they understand that their own liberation is bound up with the liberation of every other person.

As the rally ended, the mariachi band struck up a final tune, “Cielito Lindo.” Those who knew the words sang them, and those who didn’t hummed along to the familiar melody, swaying from side to side like those around them. In the face of injustice, voices rang out:

Ay, ay, ay, ay,
Canta y no llores,
Porque cantando se alegran,
Cielito lindo, los corazones.

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The lyrics ask us to sing and not cry, since singing — like solidarity, support and struggle — strengthens our hearts.

The county commissioners are expected to vote on Johnson’s plan to rejoin the 287(g) program, and that decision will shape the next stage of this fight. But regardless of the outcome, we sent a message of defiance against racist hate — and we proved again that we will always be louder and stronger together.

Translation assistance from Anderson Bean

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