Vigil targets Sheriff’s immigration agreement

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Doucet believes most of the council have no direction
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Framed by the lights and decorations gracing Terrebonne Parish’s courthouse square, about two dozen women, children and men held signs and tiny candles Sunday, expressing concerns over an agreement that allows local deputies to act as agents for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.


The agreement between Sheriff Jerry Larpenter and the Department of Homeland Security, one of three such contracts in Louisiana, allows specially-trained deputies to perform certain duties otherwise reserved to federal agents in regard to individuals allegedly in the U.S. without documentation. drawing attention to an agreement that allows some sheriff’s deputies to act as agents for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement through a program they say is potentially harmful to themselves, and other people from Spanish-speaking nations who make a living in the Bayou Region and elsewhere in Louisiana.

Organizers of Sunday’s vigil said the program can result in Hispanic people being unfairly targeted or profiled by law enforcement and that it erodes trust between the police and Spanish-speaking people.

“These agreements can harm people who have been in the community for the past 15 years, people who are tax payers and not tax collectors, they do not receive services,” said Danilo Balladares, an organizer for the Seafood Worker Alliance Project, whose members are drawn from workers in the state’s seafood industry. The organization seeks better conditions and wages for those working in processing plants and other sectors of the industry. Among those employed at shrimp, crab and oyster plants are guest workers — mostly from Spanish-speaking countries — here with special visas. Others may not have that or other documentation, including spouses and children.


Among the concerns voiced is that law enforcement officers in places where the agreements with ICE exist are tempted to profile Hispanic people for car stops, and that false arrests and in some cases what they see as unneeded hardships can result. The potential that a traffic ticket may lead to detention weighs heavy.

Ordinarily a person suspected of being in the U.S. illegally can be held for up to 72 hours by local law enforcement. If ICE personnel do not claim the individual within that time he or she must be released. The 287-G program would allow specially authorized local officers to prepare required documents that could keep undocumented people incarcerated for a far longer period and set the investigation and potential deportation progress in motion.

Sheriff Jerry Larpenter confirmed that he has made the agreement with Homeland Security but has not yet determined which officers he will assign to the special federal training required for their authorizations. And he sees no difference between his agency’s participation in the program and other federal-local partnerships such as those made with the Drug Enforcement Administration or U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The 287-G agreement, Larpenter said, enhances his department’s ability to aid another law enforcement agency.


“We are not looking for anybody,” Larpenter said. “We have the ability to book them in our facility without waiting for ICE. ICE is a federal law enforcement agency and as long as I am sheriff I will back up any law enforcement agency and help them with enforcing the laws of this country. Immigration enforcement is part of our government and they have a job to do. Unless Congress changes laws they are to enforce the laws.”

Larpenter said his agency’s track record does not indicate any undue pressure on immigrants no matter their status.

“We know there are a lot of illegals in this parish you don’t see us rounding them up,” Larpenter said. “We know that a lot of big stores are using illegals building these shopping centers, that they are deported but then they are coming back here. This country has wasted billions of dollars, more than it costs to build a wall, apprehending illegals and sending them back again.”


The other two jurisdictions that currently have agreements with ICE are East Baton Rouge and Ouachita parishes.

Larpenter estimated that the day rate payable to his office by federal authorities exceeds $40 per day. That’s nearly twice what the Louisiana Department of Corrections pays him for holding state inmates. Even so, he said, limited space in the jail and other priorities would result in little change concerning operations.

Maria Escobedo, who coordinates Hispanic outreach at Annunziata Catholic Church, said Spanish-speaking parishioners are becoming nervous as they learn more about the program. SWAP representatives have addressed parishioners recently providing detailed information.


“A lot of people are scared because it is alarming, and sometimes the good people suffer for other peoples’ actions,” Escobedo said. “Terrebonne is already suffering economically. Why would you want to arrest people in the Hispanic community who are your hard-working people who are paying taxes? How do we continue to receive taxes from people who are willing to work but are arrested and cannot remain part of the work force?”

Vigil protestJAMES LOISELLE | THE TIMES