Four speakers before the Mecklenburg County commissioners Tuesday night decried a suggestion by Vice Chair Jim Puckett that federal immigration agents attend the meeting.
A rumored protest like the one that took over a Charlotte City Council meeting last week did not materialize. But speakers took the microphone to blast the idea that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers be present.
“We come to this country just to work, to make America great,” said Manuel Betancur, who owns a Central Avenue bakery. “Your silence is disrespectful to our community. … When families are separated, we should talk.”
Sebastian Feculak, who was born in Poland, said: “You need to be holding each other accountable … if you’re not holding them accountable for comments like that, you’re responsible.”
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Puckett praised the speakers for their passion and decorum.
“When you shout down people, when you overwhelm people, that is the problem that brings out resistance,” he said.
About 200 protesters angered by the Trump administration’s moves to deport undocumented immigrants shouted down Charlotte City Council at its meeting last week with chants of “No more ICE!” and “Do something!”
Puckett called early Tuesday for adding extra security Tuesday night to “maintain a proper level of civil discourse.”
“I think that the presence of ICE agents might have a calming effect on anyone who is passionate, illegal and willing to cross the line of calm and deliberative public engagement,” Puckett said in an email.
Some commissioners expressed sympathy for immigrants’ plight.
County commissioners’ Chair Ella Scarborough said the speakers Tuesday night reminded her of her own civil rights struggles, when as a teenager in 1963 she was jailed in a South Carolina town for walking through the front door of a segregated theater.
“The message is the same: We’re going to discriminate,” she said.
Commissioner Trevor Fuller added that it’s important for elected officials to give voice to fear and injustice. “That we would have ICE officers in our chambers I have to say is repugnant to me,” he said.
The Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office has been among protesters’ biggest targets, because of its participation in a federal program that alerts ICE when someone arrested for a crime is not legally in the country. That program, called 287(g), resulted in about 100 people being deported from Mecklenburg County last year.