U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is rattling Charlotte’s large population of undocumented immigrants by conducting a nationwide “surge operation” to pick up people living illegally in the country.
Federal officials haven’t yet provided numbers for recent arrests in Charlotte. But the Spanish-language newspaper Hola Noticias reported that nearly 50 people have been picked up in the city since July 18.
ICE is widening President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration, focusing on teens ages 16 and 17 who entered the country without guardians and are suspected gang members, Reuters reported on July 21. Under Trump, ICE reports deporting more than 2,700 criminal gang members in fiscal 2017, up from 2,057 in the whole of the previous fiscal year, Reuters said.
It is estimated that there are as many as 54,000 undocumented immigrants in Mecklenburg County, many of them attracted to jobs in Charlotte’s bustling service and construction industries. In the state as a whole, experts estimate there are 338,000 undocumented people living in the shadows.
Bryan Cox, a spokesman for ICE in the southeast U.S., confirmed to the Observer that the surge is in progress in the city, but declined to give details for arrests made so far. ICE should be releasing statistics and more information after the operation concludes, he said. That will happen soon, Cox said, but he did not provide a specific time-frame.
Undocumented immigrants detained by ICE in Charlotte are typically held in the York County Detention Center, south of the state line. ICE has not said whether the recent arrests made in Charlotte were gang related.
Cox said the arrests include family units and young adults who entered the U.S. as unaccompanied children. ICE is specifically targeting youths who are at least 16 years old and have criminal histories and/or suspected gang ties, he said.
All the targeted people have lost multiple court appeals to stay in the country, and have been issued a final order of deportation, Cox said.
“Attempting to unlawfully enter the United States as a family unit or unaccompanied children does not protect individuals from being subject to the immigration laws of this country,” Cox said. “ICE prioritizes the arrest and removal of national security and public safety threats. However, no class or category of alien in the United States is exempt from arrest or removal.”
Trump campaigned on a promise to get tougher on people breaking the nation’s immigration laws, including the construction of a border wall to stem the flow of people entering the country illegally through Mexico.
Advocates for undocumented immigrants have assailed the change in approach, calling it cruel and claiming it legalizes racial profiling. The activist group Credo Action has accused Trump of “terrorizing immigrants and ripping families and communities apart” across the nation. “Immigrant children and their families are living in fear,” said a statement from Credo Action.
Charlotte is among the cities in the nation that have been accused of flouting the nation’s immigration laws. Some critics call it a “sanctuary city,” due to a policy of instructing police officers not to inquire about the citizenship status of people caught driving without a license. Undocumented immigrants can’t get a driver’s license in North Carolina.
City officials have denied Charlotte is a sanctuary city and say enforcement of federal immigration laws is not the responsibility of city cops.
The Washington Examiner reported on July 18 that federal immigration officials were planning to deploy more agents and resources to “sanctuary cities”
It’s unclear if Charlotte is one of the cities ICE is targeting.
The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office has an opposite approach from the city. Deputies verify the legal status of every inmate admitted into the county jail. The policy, known as 287(g), led to the deportation of 100 people last year, all with criminal backgrounds, officials said.
Immigrant groups supporting undocumented people issued a series of demands to Charlotte officials in April, aimed at making Charlotte a true sanctuary city. Among the demands: Provide benefits and services to undocumented immigrants; end police check points; delete all citizenship questions from city applications; and provide money for undocumented immigrants to fight deportation. City officials have declined to act on the demands.