Charlotte Latino leader warned to hide in advance of May 1 immigrant march

A key organizer of Monday’s planned immigrant protest at Marshall Park has reportedly been threatened by a group calling itself the “Midnight Militia.”

Immigrant advocate Oliver Merino posted the threatening letter on his Facebook page late Tuesday, chiding the senders by noting “at least they spelled my name correctly.”

The handwritten postcard uses racist and anti-gay terms, and notes Merino’s role in recently presenting city and county leaders with a list of demands on behalf of the 54,000 undocumented immigrants living in Mecklenburg County.

It also concludes with a threat against undocumented immigrants: “You better find you a hole and get in it. They have your home address.”

Merino had not reported the threat to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police as of Thursday morning.

The note was sent to the offices of the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, which advocates for immigrants. Merino is on the agency’s board of directors.

“I put it on Facebook so that people know what is happening,” Merino told the Spanish language newspaper Que Pasa-Mi Gente.

The letter comes out just days before a May 1 protest and business boycott planned by Comunidad Colectiva, the Southeast Asian Coalition and Alerta Migratoria. All three immigrant groups are demanding that city and county leaders defy federal laws that call for the arrest and deportation of people in the country illegally.

The May 1 event will begin with a noon gathering at Marshall Park in uptown. Immigrant advocates are asking Charlotteans to skip work and school on May 1, and to boycott businesses that stay open that day.

Merino has recently become one of the city’s best known Latino advocates. He was among the organizers of Charlotte’s Feb. 16 Day Without Immigrants protest, which successfully attracted more than 8,000 people to uptown for a march. He was also the one who personally delivered the list of new demands to city and county government offices last week.

News of the threat was quickly condemned by Mecklenburg County commission member Bill James, who says he has seen his share of threats.

However, James said some immigrant advocates sent an “aggressive” message to the community when they disrupted a February Charlotte City Council meeting, shouting, cursing and chanting at city leaders. Council members left the dais in an attempt to quiet the crowd. They returned a few minutes later and continued the regular portion of their meeting, but had to shout at each other to be heard as they took votes on items.

“Sadly, anyone in the public eye these days gets threats. It should not be that way but civility was lost a long time ago by both sides in America,” said James in an email.

“Personal threats are NEVER appropriate, but I would suggest that they consider adjusting their tactics and refrain from attempting to seize control of government by force.”

Merino’s posting of the threatening note on Facebook won support from immigrant advocates.

“Congratulations,” said Facebook poster Amarilla Blues. “They are paying attention! They are afraid about your impact in the community.”

Another Facebook poster welcomed him to “the 500 year old national fight against racism white supremacy in America.”

The list of demands presented by Merino last week sparked anger among those who view undocumented immigrants as law breakers.

City and County officials have not publicly responded to the list, which included a call for the county jail to stop telling federal officials when an undocumented immigrant has been arrested for a crime.

Below are some of the demands:

  • End Mecklenburg County’s participation in the federal 287(g) program. Under that program, all prisoners taken to the county jail are asked about their citizenship. Those who cannot show U.S. citizenship are referred to the 287(g) program for further study by federal agents. (ICE says 100 people were deported in 2016 through Mecklenburg County’s participation in the program.)
  • Protect the access of undocumented immigrants to city benefits and services.
  • Delete citizenship status questions from all applications, questionnaires and forms used in relation to the city. Prohibit city agencies and employees from requesting information or investigating a person’s citizenship or immigration status.
  • End all CMPD motor vehicle checkpoints.
  • Cut CMPD funding and “reinvest” the money in housing, health and education programs.
  • Decriminalize or create alternative forms of accountability for: crimes of survival, such as theft and sex work; offenses that take place in public schools or other public educational facilities; and “minor” traffic offenses such as DUIs, not having an operators license and driving with a revoked license. (Undocumented immigrants are not allowed to get a North Carolina driver’s license, making it a key issue among advocates.)
  • Provide money for immigrants in need of legal representation and create an office within the city to provide legal services to immigrants and refugees