Last week, agents of Immigration Customs Enforcement swept through North Carolina, from Charlotte to Durham, Asheboro and Burlington to Raleigh, snatching up human beings.
Sean Gallagher, director of the ICE Atlanta Field Office, confirmed in a Feb. 8 press conference in Charlotte that over the previous “few days our officers conducted a large-scale enforcement operation resulting in approximately 200 arrests across the state of North Carolina.” As of Sunday evening, the immigrant advocacy group Siembra NC had tallied 34 detentions in the Triad, including nine each in Winston-Salem and Greensboro.
It is not hyperbole to say that ICE is terrorizing immigrant families across our state. “Terror” is the only word suitable to describe how a spouse, child or sibling is likely to feel about a family member’s sudden abduction, detention and removal to another country. This is a husband likely to be separated from their spouse for years, a father yanked away from a child at a critical stage of development, a breadwinner whose income is vital to holding together a household.
Law enforcement is supposed to protect communities, but as ICE functions, protection is an abstraction at best and a lie at worst. The far-right, tea-party/Trumpist mantra for years has justified indiscriminate immigration enforcement with the dictum that a nation must uphold its laws, and that a nation without a functioning border eventually ceases to be a nation at all. Putting aside the fact that the number of irregular border crossings is at its lowest level in decades, the rule of law and the border as a national front-door are abstractions. Human beings who go to work, buy groceries and take their children to school are being harmed.
Appealing to immigration authorities for mercy, waiting for Congress and President Trump to broker a deal, or seeking intervention from a senator is an unaffordable luxury when families are at immediate risk.
When a crisis hits, neighbors protect each other.
And so, last week, dozens of volunteers fanned out across the Triad to confirm sightings of ICE, warning residents of danger and putting to rest unfounded rumors that only serve to multiply intimidation. When law enforcement becomes predatory, people have a moral duty to protect each other.
One video posted on Facebook, which had been viewed 96,891 times as of Sunday evening, by a volunteer in Burlington on Feb. 6 showed an interaction with a federal agent sitting in a maroon SUV with tinted windows and bearing a Georgia plate outside a trailer park. The volunteer calmly walks up to the window and asks the driver: “Do you live here?”
“No,” the agent says tentatively, as he rolls the window back up.
“Gentleman with a police vest,” the volunteer reports.
“What are you doing?” the agent asks.
“Oh, we got a report of some suspicious activity in the neighborhood,” the volunteer says. “Part of a neighborhood watch. What agency are you with, sir?”
The agent identifies himself as US Department of Homeland Security, and then shows his ID at the volunteer’s request.
The agent attempts to gain the upper hand by asking why he shouldn’t be suspicious of the volunteer.
“Because I’m not sitting in a vehicle with tinted windows outside of someone’s home,” the volunteer responds.
The volunteer walks the length of the lane. Spotting a resident he says in the same calm voice: “There’s a suspicious vehicle out by the mailboxes. It’s an unmarked SUV with Georgia plates and tinted windows. The man has a police vest and says he works for Homeland Security. So be careful. And let neighbors know, as well.”To donate to a fund to support
ICE officials like to emphasize criminal conduct by persons detained and deported, as with a Honduran immigrant who was reportedly charged with possession of stolen firearms during a traffic stop in Winston-Salem last week. But during his Charlotte press conference, Field Office Director Sean Gallagher acknowledged that 60 out of the 200 people arrested last week “were arrested after it was found out by our ICE officers during that targeted enforcement that they were illegally in the country.” In other words, they’d broken no criminal laws. Another 50, he said, were “ICE fugitives,” which means they’d only broken immigration laws as “individuals ordered removed from the United States by an immigration judge” who “have failed to depart.” Of the 90 arrested with previous criminal convictions or pending criminal charges, the stats don’t differentiate between crimes of survival, like driving to work without a license in a state that doesn’t accommodate undocumented drivers, or crimes of social harm, like domestic violence.
Gallagher called the 60 arrests of otherwise law-abiding undocumented people “a small bump,” while also claiming that it was “really a product” of policy changes by new sheriffs in Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg counties who have announced they’ll no longer allow ICE to make arrests out of their jails. But that’s ridiculous — 60 people who would otherwise have no interaction with the local criminal justice system wouldn’t be in a county jail anyway.
In the next breath, Gallagher accused advocates and the press of falsely accusing ICE agents of making indiscriminate arrests, citing a statistic that 91 percent of the arrests in the Carolinas and Georgia in fiscal year 2018 were people either criminally convicted or charged with a crime. If that’s the case, then the 60 people arrested in North Carolina last week solely for being “illegally in the country” is way out of proportion.
When the state descends into barbarity, it’s the duty of people of good conscience to tell ICE agents they’re not welcome here and that they can’t prey on our immigrant neighbors.
To donate to a fund to support immigrant families by covering legal fees, family expenses and lost income and other emergency needs, go to tiny.cc/TriadDonate