Immigrant activists say they’re still waiting to meet with Sheriff Danny Rogers about immigration, ICE

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Sheriff Danny Rogers has said that his office does not honor ICE detainer requests unless accompanied by a judicial warrant. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Some immigrant activists in the community say they are still waiting to meet with Sheriff Danny Rogers to talk about ICE detainer requests and other issues.

A number of activists in the community claim they’ve had a hard time scheduling meetings with new Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers to ask questions about ICE and immigration.

Danny Rogers, who became the first black sheriff in county history, was sworn in at the end of last year after defeating BJ Barnes, who held the seat for 24 years. Rogers ran on a fairly progressive ticket, promising voters that he would build trust between residents and law enforcement. Now, activists say it’s time for Rogers to make good on his promise.

Andrew Willis Garcés, an organizer who works with undocumented people in the Triad, says that groups that he is a part of, including the American Friends Service Committee and Siembra NC, have yet to have a conversation with the sheriff, despite multiple attempts to schedule meetings.

According to Garcés, attempts to reach out date back to mid-January when group members handed out community surveys during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Greensboro. The survey asked takers questions about what they think about officers in schools and whether ICE agents should be allowed to use local jails to detain undocumented immigrants.

On Valentine’s Day, members of the community, including several children, made cards for Rogers and were able to deliver them to him directly when he attended the event, which took place outside the sheriff’s office.

During the event, which was recorded by a member of Siembra, Rogers stated that he will not detain undocumented immigrants unless he is sent a judicial warrant.

“If they want me to detain an undocumented immigrant, then the proper document must be filed,” Rogers says in the video. “If a federal judge has not signed a detaining order, I will not hold them.”

Following the Valentine’s Day event, Garcés says he and other members of the community set up a meeting on March 7 with the sheriff to talk about immigration issues. More than 60 people, including some undocumented immigrant showed up to that meeting at New Light Baptist Church. However, Rogers did not.

“A lot of people took a risk [going] there,” Garcés says. “He said he was going to be there. A reporter even asked Max [Benbassat] about it and Max said he would be there. A freshman from Guilford has a lot of trouble reliving the terror of her dad being detained. You can’t just make her tell that story all the time.”

When asked why the sheriff missed the March 7 meeting, Max Benbassat, the new public information office for the sheriff’s office, said in an email on Tuesday, that Rogers is “subject to being called away to other concerns… and would hope that in the interest of public safety, that is understood.”

A few weeks later on March 25, community organizers tried to meet with Rogers again. This time with a smaller group of just four people. When he failed to show up again, Benbassat told the group that it was because the sheriff had just had eye surgery. The group, which included Garcés, met with some of Rogers’ deputies instead and Garcés said the deputies couldn’t answer activists’ questions.

On March 27, some of the same organizers tried to meet with Rogers a third time at a meeting at Melvin Municipal Office Building that included some members of the Latino Community Coalition of Guilford County. When Rogers missed that appointment, Benbassat said that no one at the sheriff’s office had confirmed the meeting and that “the sheriff receives requests regularly from different community groups” and that “he can’t always attend.”

“It’s kind of heartbreaking because at the meeting, people were genuinely excited,” Garcés recalls. “People put themselves out there because they think he’s gonna listen. They say they feel like he just wasted their time and what incentive do they have to participate in the civic process?”

Still, others in the community like Addy Jeffrey of the Latino Community Coalition of Guilford County say they’ve had no trouble meeting with the sheriff.

“We understand that he’s very busy,” Jeffrey said in a recent phone interview.

Jeffrey is also a part of the League of Women Voters roundtable for immigration, which she said has met with Rogers twice to talk about immigration. When asked about the March 27 meeting that he missed, Jeffrey defended the sheriff by saying that it was probably miscommunication.

“I don’t want to read a lot into that because I don’t know and I imagine that he’s very busy,” Jeffrey said. “We want to continue to have a relationship with him.”

David Fraccaro of Faith Action echoed Jeffrey’s feelings. Fraccaro said that while his group has yet to meet with Rogers, that they are planning on meeting with him soon.

“We purposely wanted to give him some time,” Fraccaro said. “We have plans in the coming week or two to meet with him. We have not had issues. Both offices have limited hours but there’s been nothing problematic in that regard. We’re hopeful that some positive things will come out of that meeting.”

In the email, Benbassat said that “sheriff Rogers cares about all communities in Guilford County and seeks to provide equal protection under the law for all residents. He has met with several groups voicing concerns about our immigrant families and any meetings he is able to attend, he has done so.”

Members of Siembra and other activist groups met with Sheriff Rogers on Valentine’s Day this year and handed him cards. (courtesy photo)

A written policy requiring ICE officials to present a judicial warrant for detaining undocumented immigrants in local jails is just one of the requests an immigrant coalition is asking from the sheriff’s office. In addition to the judicial warrant policy, which is on the books in other counties like Forsyth and Mecklenburg, activists are asking sheriff Rogers to implement an ICE courthouse-arrests policy which would require a deputy to escort ICE officials in courthouses to make arrests and require them to wear ID, as well as meet with the coalition and members of Guilford County Schools to review of current SRO training policies.

In a phone call on Tuesday evening, Benbassat said that the office does have a judicial warrant policy and any employees who don’t follow the policy would face appropriate consequences.

“It’s been a policy for a long time now and we’re not going to change,” Benbassat said. “We have not, and we will not detain people for ICE.”

On Wednesday, Benbassat clarified via email that while the policy has not been incorporated into the office’s procedures manual yet, it has been shared with all detention staff via email and trainings.

Benbassat also said that between Jan. 1 and March 22, only eight undocumented immigrants had been held in the county jail and that seven of them had been taken into custody by other agencies. Benbassat said all of them were for serious crimes such as narcotics, sex offenses, assaults and theft. None of them were detained for minor offenses like driving without a license.

Benbassat also noted that no undocumented immigrants have been arrested at the multiple traffic checkpoints that have been taking place in the city. However, he said that the office will continue to hold checkpoints and that no one, regardless of citizenship should drive without a license.

“We will keep doing checkpoints,” he said. “The sheriff means business when it comes to public safety.”

During a meeting of the NC House Rules Committee on April 1, Rogers spoke out against HB 370, which passed the House on April 3. The bill would require sheriffs to cooperate with ICE and honor the agency’s detainer requests.

“I’m not a sanctuary sheriff, I’m not anything that you want to call it, but I do want you to understand something,” Rogers said at the committee meeting. “The people of Guilford County is who I serve. All people, all of them. And I will continue to follow the rules and regulations the way I am supposed to. To tell me that I am putting the citizens of Guilford County at harm, when I ran for this seat, you need to fact check and I sincerely mean that.”

In an email on Tuesday, Benbassat confirmed Rogers’ stance on HB 370 by stating that the sheriff “does not support HB 370 or any measures being used to circumvent the local authority of the sheriffs in requiring cooperation with ICE” and that “any acts by law enforcement that could be construed as targeting a population of people would be considered racial or ethnic profiling, and that is not acceptable.”

According to the sheriff’s office website, the office currently accepts written detainer notifications from ICE that pertain to inmates in their custody on non-immigration related state criminal charges. The office also communicates with ICE concerning the status of inmates’ state criminal charges and keeps ICE informed as inmates progress toward resolution of their charges. Their policy says that they communicate with ICE for two reasons: “It is a common-sense measure to keep Guilford County residents safe; and federal law requires it.” The webpage also states that the sheriff’s office does not “honor requests (i.e., detainers) from ICE to actually hold an inmate for up to 48 hours after the inmate’s state criminal charges have been resolved.  The reason is that the act of holding such inmates after their state criminal charges have been resolved is very likely a ‘seizure’ for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment.”

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