A Charlotte company that employs immigrants to teach preschoolers Spanish language and culture skills says it may close due to what the owner perceives as increased immigrant harassment brought on by the election of Donald Trump.
PlaySpanish, which has been operating in the city for 20 years, posted a note on its Web page Thursday saying it would be closed for the next two days because two of its teachers were harassed at police roadblocks, one in Charlotte and one in Gaston County.
Ricardo Mata, who operates PlaySpanish, says if the harassment continues, he and the staff will discuss the closing for good. Currently, seven teachers work for the company, he said, which helps as many as 3,700 children in preschools, day cares and private homes learn Spanish and Spanish culture.
“Two of our instructors, one a U.S. citizen born in Puerto Rico and the other a permanent resident originally from Mexico, were stopped at police/immigration check points in Charlotte and near Gastonia,” said Mata’s statement on the Web site.
“They were harassed, verbally abused and, in one case, a police officer fondled the instructor’s privates as he was ‘searching’ for weapons or drugs. During the day, I received numerous calls and messages with similar stories happening all over the city and, in fact, all over the the country.”
“In view of this situation and to avoid further issues, we are going to suspend all our classes and activities for the rest of this week.... I will be on stand-by today and tomorrow keeping an eye on the situation. I pray and hope we can resume normal activities next Monday.”
Mata told the Observer in a phone interview that he believes Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police are working in conjunction Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The complaint comes just days after ICE announced it had made nearly 100 arrests of undocumented immigrants in the Carolinas.
However, ICE has denied it conducted roadblocks or raids. And Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police were supplied with a copy of Mata’s statement Thursday and denied any such partnership was taking place.
“The CMPD does not conduct immigration checkpoints,” said an email from Robert Tufano, a spokesman for CMPD. “The CMPD does not enforce federal immigration laws or profile community members based on their immigration status period. CMPD’s primary goal is to prevent and solve crimes.”
In order to be successful in that, he said it is critical to maintain trust between CMPD and the communities the department services, including the immigrant community.
The closing of PlaySpanish on Thursday coincided with a national protest called “A Day Without An Immigrant,” which calls for immigrants to close their businesses, stay home from work and not attend schools. However, Mata told the Observer that it was coincidental his business was closed on the same day as the protest.
Mata told the Observer that neither of the two women had filed complaints about they way they were allegedly treated.
He said the teacher stopped in Charlotte was pulled over by two roadblocks on the same day, one on Carmel Road and the other Sharon Amity. The other teacher was stopped in Gaston County, between Belmont and Gastonia, he said.
“If the police and ICE are not working together, why are so many immigrants being arrested and deported?” said Mata.
“I’m closed because I do not want to expose my teachers to this kind of harassment. It would be irresponsible of me. We will see what happens next week. If things are not better, we may have an emergency meeting and close. We will file for bankruptcy and my family will lose its business.”
The school does not rely on government money, he said, but is instead supported by tuition paid by parents.