Commissioners give sheriff the green light to keep renting out beds for holding federal immigration detainees

Alamance County’s commissioners have agreed to continue funding a two-year-old arrangement that allows the federal government to house immigration detainees in Alamance County’s jail.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, the county’s governing board voted 5-to-0 to allot $1,012,500 for this interagency partnership, which will enable the office of Alamance County’s sheriff to lease jail beds to the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through the end of this fiscal year. The commissioners approved the allocation at the behest of Alamance County’s manager Bryan Hagood, who assured them that the county will recoup every cent of this outlay thanks to the $135 per day that the federal agency has agreed to pay the county for each inmate it boards at the jail.

“It’s important to note that the ICE expenditures are completely offset by ICE revenues. There are no county dollars in the ICE program.”

– county manager bryan hagood

“It’s important to note that the ICE expenditures are completely offset by ICE revenues,” Hagood told the commissioners before Monday’s unanimous vote. “There are no county dollars in the ICE program.”


County has “guaranteed minimum” lease payment for 50 beds per day

The funds that the commissioners allocated on Monday will effectively cover the first five months of an annual contract that Alamance County’s sheriff Terry Johnson originally negotiated with ICE in February of 2019. In its latest incarnation, this deal reserves a “guaranteed minimum” of 50 beds a day at rate of $135 each – or a total of $2,463,750 over the course of the contract’s full 12-month term. According to the paperwork that accompanied this budget request, this figure represents an increase of $413,910 over the contract’s previous iteration, which expired on January 31 of this year.

The sum that Hagood asked the commissioners to allocate on Monday is equivalent to the revenue that the 50-bed minimum will bring in through the fiscal year’s end on June 30.

The sheriff’s current detention arrangement with ICE supplanted an earlier deal that Johnson first brokered in 2007 as part of a broader working relationship with federal immigration authorities. Under this previous partnership, the sheriff’s office operated an immigration unit within the jail where a cadre of specially-trained deputies were tasked with checking the immigration status of suspects booked on other, unrelated offenses.

ICE eventually scuttled the sheriff’s immigration unit in the fall of 2012 shortly before the U.S. Department of Justice took the sheriff to court for allegedly targeting Latinos for traffic stops and arrests in order to run them through the jail’s immigration checks. Although a federal judge ultimately threw out the Justice Department’s lawsuit in 2015, it wasn’t until the opening months of 2019 that Johnson renewed his joint venture with ICE. The sheriff chose not to resurrect his erstwhile immigration unit when he resumed his detention arrangement with the federal agency.

Johnson was on hand Monday to personally assure the commissioners that his current agreement with ICE has been beneficial for both his office and its federal partners.

“We’re the only over 72 hour holding facility in North Carolina,” he explained. “We’re very lucky with the state of our nation to get another year’s contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”


Most public comments oppose the ICE contract renewal

The sheriff’s detention agreement nevertheless drew several objections from area residents who addressed the commissioners during a designated public comment period at the beginning of Monday night’s meeting. The program’s detractors included Omar Bautista of Burlington, who told the commissioners that he had some first-hand experience of the sheriff’s detention arrangement with ICE.

“I spent 10 months locked up in a cage separated from my family in great part because of the agreement that Terry Johnson has with ICE.”

– Burlington resident Omar Bautista

“I spent 10 months locked up in a cage separated from my family in great part because of the agreement that Terry Johnson has with ICE,” he recalled when he addressed the commissioners by phone. “It didn’t matter that I was in the country legally, or that I wasn’t convicted of a crime. This is what happens when you give Terry Johnson the resources and the free range to do as he pleases.”

Following Bautista’s remarks, Alamance County’s clerk Tory Frink read two of the nine emails that she said she had received in opposition to the sheriff’s renewed contract with ICE. The first email from Kaitlynn Fields of Rogers Street in Burlington accused the county of “profiting from a racist system.” Meanwhile, Carey Griffin, who identified herself as a resident of Graham, admonished the commissioners for abetting the sheriff in his “abusive and wasteful immigration enforcement activities.”

“stop exploiting people from our community for profit.”

– Public comment, emailed from carey griffin

“Not all of the people who live here feel safe or welcome in large part because of the sheriff’s partnership with ICE,” Griffin stated in the email that Frink read to the county’s governing board. “Do not approve the sheriff’s amended budget and stop exploiting people from our community for profit.”

The county clerk didn’t read any of the seven remaining critical emails due to the board’s long-standing public comment policy, which allows no more than three iterations of a single position or stance at a particular meeting. Even so, Frink did read one additional email from a supporter of the sheriff’s endeavor.

“Thank you, Terry Johnson for continuing to enforce the laws of our country,” Graham resident Jeffrey Clayton stated in his electronic missive to the commissioners. “Our county doesn’t need more people coming here who just want to change it into what they think it should be because they don’t like it. Just look at Graham, people move here from progressive cities and complain that it’s not what they want it to be.”