For a week now, it has been reported that Charlotte’s immigrant community is in a “state of fear” over a rumored rise in federal arrests of undocumented people living in the east part of the city.
Now, that fear is turning to anger and advocates are calling for action.
Action NC, the Latin American Coalition, the NAACP and a handful of other immigrant advocacy groups issued an ultimatum Friday to city and county leaders:
Take a public stand against the arrests on behalf of the community’s immigrant population or face a backlash at the polls.
There are reportedly 30,000 Latinos in Mecklenburg County who are qualified to vote, and they will remember “who stood by them at election time,” said Héctor Vaca of the group Action NC.
“The city (council) is afraid of the General Assembly, so what we’re asking for is courage to defend the people they took an oath to represent,” said Vaca.
“The immigrant community is very angry. They were told by (politicians) what was going to be done for them after elections, and the city council is refusing to do anything. We don’t want workshops. We don’t want studies. We’re looking for commitment to take a stand.”
The criticism of city and county leaders comes amid widely circulated social media reports – many unsubstantiated – that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is conducting “raids” to round up and arrest of immigrants who are in the country illegally.
Similar reports are popping up across the country, including a story Friday in the Washington Post that claimed Los Angeles immigration lawyers were inundated after 100 people were reportedly arrested there Thursday in an ICE “coordinated sweep.” The paper also reported that federal agents held a series of raids, checkpoints and traffic stops in at least six states over the past two days, including in North Carolina.
ICE has denied conducting “raids” and says it hasn’t increased activity in Charlotte and elsewhere. It says the arrests are routine and ongoing.
Action NC, which disputes ICE’s claim, says 14 to 17 people were arrested in Charlotte this week. Local Latino news media say the number is closer to 21 people.
However, the numbers aren’t being verified by ICE. It says it will have a “snapshot” of Charlotte arrest numbers in a few days. A spokesman for the York County Detention Center in South Carolina, where the N.C. immigration detainees are held, said they cannot comment on how many Charlotteans are being held there. It referred all questions to ICE.
Immigrant advocates claimed at the Friday news conference that the York facility is at capacity, forcing detainees to be transferred elsewhere. That detail was attributed to unnamed immigration attorneys and not to ICE or York County officials. An ICE spokesman said Friday that he was not aware of that “rumor” and would look into it.
Businesses in east Charlotte are reporting the immigrant community’s fear is so great that customers are down by as much as 50 percent.
“I can see the fear in my employees eyes, because they have children or friends who could be arrested,” said Manuel “Manolo” Betancur, owner of Las Delicias bakery on Central Avenue.
The anger expressed by immigrant advocates comes at a time when the city is being criticized by some Republican state leaders for taking a passive approach to dealing with people living in the country illegally.
It’s estimated there are 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States who are candidates for deportation. The Obama administration made it a point to focus on arresting and deporting only the most serious criminals among them.
However, a Feb. 8 New York Times story says that changed under President Donald Trump. The Times reports Trump’s executive orders include one stipulating undocumented immigrants convicted of any criminal offense – “and even those who have not been charged but are believed to have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” – have become a priority for deportation.
Immigrants’ rights advocates told the Times that the new approach could easily apply to a majority of unauthorized immigrants in the country.
Trump has also has threatened to withhold federal money from cities that don’t share information with the federal government about people in the country illegally.
Last week, Mecklenburg commissioner Bill James questioned whether Charlotte is complying with Trump’s recent executive order on enforcing immigration laws. The order targets “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with the federal government.
James said his concern is that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department – whose policy two years ago was not to ask people about their immigration status – could jeopardize federal funds for the city and county. Three other Republican officials also said they want to make sure Charlotte isn’t violating the recent order.
In 2015, the City Council passed a civil rights resolution that said, among other things, that CMPD would not enforce immigration law. Unless a suspect was believed to be part of a violent gang or a terrorist, an officer would not ask about someone’s immigration status.
Under the resolution, if an officer learned or suspected that anyone was in the country illegally, CMPD would not act on that information. In explaining the resolution, CMPD said its job isn’t to enforce immigration law, just as its officers are not the Internal Revenue Service and don’t bust people for tax evasion.
That led to some critics calling Charlotte a “sanctuary city.” The resolution drew the ire of the General Assembly, which passed a law in 2015 that nullified what the Republican legislature said were “sanctuary city” ordinances – a clear reference to Charlotte.
Charlotte Mecklenburg Police and the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office both disputed reports this week that they are acting in coordination with ICE during recent arrests.
“We’re not backing down on this because it is the right thing to do,” said Vaca. “Immigrants pay millions of dollars in taxes, and they are helping to build this city and this state.”