Alamance County Reacts To Racial Profiling Charge

Sep 28, 2012

Last week, the US Department of Justice released findings following a two-year investigation into alleged racial profiling by the Alamance County Sheriff’s Department. The D-O-J says the department targeted Latino drivers, installed unnecessary checkpoints in Latino neighborhoods and abused its power as a county taking part in the controversial 287 (g) deportation program. Alamance has since been removed from the program, but the local Sheriff says these accusations are completely false.

Jeff Tiberii: Roberto Canseco moved to North Carolina 15 years ago from Tijuana, Mexico. He didn’t know any English then. After working briefly at a restaurant, Canseco is now going on 13 years with a local demolition crew. He’s soft spoken and stocky with the build of a wrestler. Over the years Canseco has been stopped by Sheriff Deputies, but it’s more frequent now:

Roberto Canseco: This last two years, four times. For us, it’s intimidating, you know.

Canseco legally got a North Carolina drivers license when he moved here. But in the post 9-11 world the requirements are now more difficult. The license expired and he is unable to get another one without a green card. Canseco lives with his two young daughters and wife, who is also an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. He feels his family and other Latinos in Alamance County are being targeted by the Sheriff’s department.

Canseco: We live in a mobile home park. They will stop at the exit waiting there. People are scared to even go out and get some stuff.

Canseco says he has never been arrested but he says earlier this year he was at a Biscutville when an officer watched him come out of the fast food chain. After Canseco ate his food he says the deputy followed him for about a mile, and pulled him over.

Canseco: And I asked him I said ‘May I know why you stopped me?’ "Oh I just checked your tags and that’s all" I said ‘OK’. Said: "I just assume you didn’t have a license, but you didn’t do anything" no reason … And then he’s like "I’m going to walk away and hide over there. When you don’t see me, you can go".

Canseco received a 240 dollar ticket for driving without a license. Alamance was one of six counties, along with the City of Durham, that were participating in the 287 (g) deportation program. That program extends limited federal immigration powers to local law enforcement, allowing them to process and begin deportation for suspected undocumented immigrants. The Department of Justice said last week that the discrimination Canseco and others are speaking out about is widespread and in violation of the program. In the findings of a two-year probe into alleged ethnic profiling the D.O.J. says Latinos are four to 10 times more likely to be pulled over in Alamance County.

Terry Johnson: We will fight these allegations because they are absolutely, not, true.

That’s Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson, who’s been on the job 10 years. The D.O.J. declined an interview request, but an official said in a statement "the department hopes to work with the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office to resolve the concerns." Johnson sees nothing to resolve and will fight the claims he says lack specifics.

Johnson: They say they have talked to 125 people, but they have not given us the name of a single one of those individuals, or any factual basis for these complaints.

Johnson says his officers will continue to serve and protect the people of Alamance and that the real issue here is individuals driving without a license. Marty Rosenbluth doesn’t want people driving without a license either. He’s an Immigration Rights Attorney. Rosenbluth says it would be reasonable to help working people get a license for practical and safety reasons.

Marty Rosenbluth: If you’re going to be rear-ended by someone, I think most people would prefer that they be licensed and insured.

Rosenbluth has represented dozens of undocumented immigrants from Alamance County.

Rosenbluth: I think that most states are kinda realizing that it’s counterproductive. And I’m sure the states can figure out a way to give drivers licenses to folks that would be limited enough that it wouldn’t jeopardize national security.

Rosenbluth says following the release of its report last week the D.O.J. has dismissed immigration cases for six of his clients in Alamance County.
The County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet in closed session on Monday to discuss the report. Johnson is not facing criminal charges, but the Department of Justice says it will pursue litigation if the two sides cannot work together.