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
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
“No,” the agent says tentatively, as
he rolls the window back up.
“Gentleman with a police vest,” the
“What are you doing?” the agent
“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
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
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
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