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Immigration rights activists pull into Charlotte for DNC

CHARLOTTE, N.C. One is a stay-at-home mom of three. Another is a construction worker. One is a student who hopes to attend graduate school for math and economics.

All of them risked deportation to demand greater rights for undocumented immigrants.

They, along with 22 others, arrived in Charlotte Saturday evening on the “Undocubus.”

The bus riders are part of a group of some four dozen riders who will converge on uptown Sunday for the March on Wall Street South.

The group left Phoenix in July in a small caravan led by a 1972 tour bus emblazoned with the words “Sin Papeles Sin Miedo” and “No Papers, No Fear.”

Leticia Ramirez, 27, has been arrested and released in Arizona. The mother of three who decorates cake on the side said she rode the bus to tell other undocumented workers to know their rights and how to protect themselves. She also said the bus ride has been liberating. “Since I got out of the shadows, I don’t feel afraid of what might happen,” she said.

As the bus pulled up to El Siloe church off of Eastway Drive, bus riders waved out the windows, cheering and fist-pumping as they were greeted outside by about 30 people holding signs and cheering them in welcome.

“No papers!” they yelled. Others responded, “No fear!”

The group’s five-week ride has already led to arrests: Four of the group were arrested in Knoxville, Tenn., last week after disrupting a political meeting, but they were subsequently released.

Aside from the presence of the Democratic National Convention, Mecklenburg County represents an attractive place to protest for several reasons.

The county has a growing Hispanic population, and the county was one the earliest participants in the 287 (g) program, which means the sheriff’s office screens all arrestees for their citizenship status.

Those found to be in the country illegally can be referred to federal authorities for deportation.

Jim Pendergraph, who served as Mecklenburg County Sheriff for 13 years and is now a county commissioner, was the first to bring 287 (g) to the east coast in 2006.

“I think it’s outrageous that they’re thumbing their nose at federal and United States law by parading themselves around the country and advertising that they’re illegal aliens in the country, and no one is taking action against them,” Pendergraph said.

He said he’s heard that local law enforcement was told not to arrest people on the Undocubus.

“Actually, I’ve spoken to people from Homeland Security, and that’s what people have told them, is hands off,” he said.

Since May 2006, 20,710 inmates at Mecklenburg County Jail have been identified as undocumented immigrants.

“Our numbers have actually decreased over the years, and we believe that is due to a positive working relationship with both the immigrant community and media,” said Julia Rush, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, in an email.

Immigration has also become a more prominent national issue, since President Barack Obama issued an order staying deportations for many undocumented immigrants who came here as children.

Staff writer Ely Portillo contributed.

Ruebens: 704-358-5294
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