U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis said Saturday that he will continue to push for bipartisan reform to fix what he calls America’s broken immigration system.
“You will never satisfy the far extremes on the left and the right,” Tillis, R-N.C., told Fox News. His aim, he said, is “to get something to the president’s desk that he will sign.”
Tillis, a former N.C. Speaker of the House, has been meeting with congressional colleagues – Republicans and Democrats – on immigration and border security.
He told The Wall Street Journal recently that his plan would aim to tighten border security and toughen enforcement of immigration laws – goals often cited by Republicans — while providing some kind of protective legal status for the roughly 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally, a Democratic priority.
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Asked by Fox News for his views on deportation, Tillis, a member of a Senate subcommittee on immigration, said: “Start by deporting dangerous criminals that are among us. We’re talking felons guilty of violent crimes, drug crimes, and communicate that there will be a consequence. That’s a great first step.”
A week of arrests
His remarks came a day after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement concluded about a week of targeted immigration enforcement actions in the Carolinas, Georgia, Illinois, New York and California. ICE officials called the actions routine and ongoing.
Charlotte’s Hispanic media outlets have been reporting as many as 21 undocumented people have been arrested in the city in the past week by ICE. The immigrant support group Action NC said it believes the number is 14 to 17 people.
ICE has yet to supply data on how many people in Charlotte have been arrested in the past week.
However, on Friday the Atlanta field office of ICE gave a tally for how many were arrested this week across Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina: 200. It did not supply similar data for the same period in past years, so it remains unclear if that represents an increase.
“Most of those 200 individuals are convicted criminals,” said Bryan Cox, a spokesman for the Southern region of ICE.
“The breakdown (of the 200 arrests) is roughly (an) even split between each of the three states. I trust this data will help alleviate any concern regarding any of the rumors about large-scale ‘sweeps’ that are now circulating.”
The Migration Policy Institute – a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C. – has estimated 54,000 people are living illegally in Mecklenburg County, including 10,000 who have been here more than 15 years. The information was based on 2014 data.
Most experts estimate 11.1 million undocumented people live in the U.S., with North Carolina cited as the state with the sixth fastest growing immigrant population, both legal and undocumented. The Pew Research Center estimates the U.S. civilian workforce included 8 million unauthorized immigrants in 2014, accounting for 5 percent of those who were working or were unemployed and looking for work.
Immigration lawyers said many of their clients who were detained had an outstanding removal order, because they had skipped a court day or evaded a deportation order, The Wall Street Journal reported. Those immigrants weren’t previously a priority for removal.
Immigration agents, sometimes backed by local police, arrested people in cars, in their homes and at work sites, attorneys and advocates told the Journal.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, however, disputed reports they coordinated with ICE on recent arrests.
“I would like to make it crystal clear that CMPD does not enforce federal immigration laws, nor do we profile community members based on their immigration status. Period,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said in a video interview posted Friday on CMPD’s Twitter account.
“Laws dictate that CMPD cannot prohibit officers from sharing information regarding a person’s citizenship or immigration status with the federal government,” Putney said. “However, our primary goal is always to prevent and solve crimes.”
Tin Nguyen, an immigration attorney in Charlotte, told the Journal on Friday that he has been flooded with calls.
He said several immigrants whose families had contacted him Thursday for legal representation had been transferred to a larger immigration detention center in Georgia by the time he tried to meet them at a local facility Friday.
A spokesman for the York County Detention Center in South Carolina, where the N.C. immigration detainees are held, said he couldn’t comment on how many Charlotteans are being held there. He referred all questions to ICE.
Businesses in east Charlotte reported the immigrant community’s fear is so great that customers are down by as much as 50 percent.