Chairman Frank White of the Winnebago Tribe. Photo courtesy Winnebago Tribe

Leader of Winnebago Tribe clashes with sheriff over racial profiling

'Racial profiling is a reality for Native people'

Sheriff in Dakota County plans to enforce immigration laws
By Kevin Abourezk

The leader of the Winnebago Tribe is criticizing a local sheriff's decision to allow jailers to be deputized so they can enforce federal immigration laws.

Chairman Frank White said Monday he is concerned giving the county’s jailers the ability to enforce immigration laws will lead to racial profiling of his people in Nebraska.

The tribe sent a letter to Dakota County Sheriff Chris Kleinberg’s office on February 20, asking him to reverse his decision to take part in the federal Section 287(g) program, which allows U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to deputize jailers to question and detain people arrested for other crimes.

“Implementation of the Section 287(g) program in this community is unnecessary and has the potential to victimize people of color, damage the fragile public trust between the tribe, tribal members and your agency, and erode the safety and security of all those who live in or travel to Dakota County,” White said in the letter.

He said he is concerned his tribe’s citizens living in Dakota County or traveling through there to reach shopping centers in South Sioux City, Nebraska, and Sioux City, Iowa — just down the road from the tribe’s northeast Nebraska reservation — will face further racial profiling. He said Winnebago tribal members often report experiencing racial profiling by law enforcement in Dakota County and other parts of Nebraska.

“Tribal members know that they are much more likely to be pulled over by non-Indian law enforcement if their cars have Thurston County license plates,” he said. “Racial profiling is a reality for Native people.”

Thurston County – where the Winnebago Reservation is located – is just south of Dakota County.

Kleinberg said he began his law enforcement career as a deputy in Thurston County. He said he completed federal training with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to be able to enforce the law on the Winnebago Reservation.

He said the Section 287(g) program will allow him to better enforce the law.

“As the elected sheriff of Dakota County, one of my obligations is enforcement of laws, whether village, city, county, state or federal,” he told Indianz.Com. “287(g) is a federal program that helps us identify folks in our country illegally.”

“I would hope as council chairman, Mr. White would educate himself a bit prior to making comments on subjects he does not understand,” Kleinberg said.

The Section 287(g) program has come under fire in recent years with civil rights advocates saying it leads to racial profiling and unnecessary costs. Most notably, the program was discontinued in Maricopa County, Arizona, after federal officials received complaints about racial profiling and civil rights abuses by former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was later convicted of criminal contempt for violating a judge’s order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants.

“Section 287(g) is a step back for Dakota County and I urge you to cancel the existing agreement with (the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services),” White said. “Dakota County doesn’t need another Joe Arpaio.”

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