The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office’s application for the federal 287(g) program still is pending but could be placed on the back-burner due to a lack of funding. “We’ve got an application on file, but it’s still pending in Washington,” Sheriff Roger Garrison said. “But the Atlanta office told us that, currently, there’s not enough funding for new programs, so the application still is on file.” Garrison said he still hopes to be approved for the federal program, which is part of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The program gives state and local law enforcement the authority to perform functions of immigration law enforcement through an agreement. When it was first implemented, Garrison wasn’t interested in the program, because the county doesn’t have the capability to hold illegal immigrants for extended periods. It was through communications with another sheriff in North Carolina that Garrison found out that a clause can be added to the agreement that would require Immigration
The net cast for illegal immigrants in Sonoma County shrank dramatically in the past year — with far fewer people turned over to the federal government for being in the country without permission. The reasons for that change are hard to pinpoint. But it corresponds chronologically to a decision that local law enforcement agencies — urged on by advocates for illegal immigrants’ rights — made last year to accept Mexican consular cards as valid identification. That meant officers in the field who were confident of the identity of a person they contacted could check them against records, and did not always have to take that person to jail to find out if they were wanted or otherwise posed a threat. Since the new policy took effect, local authorities have turned over just under half as many people as they previously did to Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the federal agency’s Se Communities program, according to data the agency provided.
The chief goal of the federal Se Communities program, in place in Sonoma County since March 2010, is to identify, detain and deport dangerous illegal immigrants. But since the program took effect, critics have said that it actually catches up as many, if not more, people guilty of offenses that most consider minor, such as driving without a license or lifting. Such was the case of Jacobo Farias-Chavez of Santa Rosa, who was pulled over for a traffic violation. Sonoma County advocates for illegal immigrants’ rights are heartened by a steep drop in the number of people handed over to immigration authorities, a drop coinciding with local police agencies’ decisions to accept Mexican consular cards as valid identification.