Local officials reassure residents that they won’t change local policies in response to President Trump’s executive orders on immigration, with the exception of Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, who did not return calls for this story.
In light of executive orders issued last week by President Trump, Mayor Nancy Vaughan vowed during a Jan. 27 press conference that Greensboro police will not become immigration agents.
The flurry of presidential orders dramatically expands efforts to deport undocumented immigrants, ramps up coordination with local law enforcement, starts the process of building a wall along the Mexican border and temporarily halts the flow of refugees and migrants from predominantly Muslim countries, among other measures.
Alluding to a city council resolution declaring Greensboro to be a “stranger to neighbor” city, Vaughan said, “We intend on staying that way.”
The mayor introduced herself using her maiden name Barakat, and declared, “I am a third-generation Syrian [immigrant],” as an expression of solidarity with Syrian refugees.
Vaughan said she spoke with police Chief Wayne Scott about how the executive orders might affect police enforcement. “I asked him if anything was going to change in the city of Greensboro after these executive orders and he said, ‘No.’ Our police officers are not [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officers, and that we are going to continue to welcome people the way that we always have.”
Speakers at the press conference represented an array of refugee agencies and faith organizations, along with representatives of the NAACP, Councilwoman Sharon Hightower, an undocumented woman and a Syrian refugee. The event drew about 125 people, some of whom held up signs reading, “Stand with refugees,” “USA is for all of us” and “Resist.”
Trump’s executive order dealing with undocumented immigrants requires the Department of Homeland Security to dramatically expand the number of people targeted for removal by prioritizing people for a wide range of conduct, including any criminal conviction, any criminal offense where the charge has not been resolved, fraud “or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency,” abuse of public benefit programs, and even includes people who may have committed acts that could be considered criminal offenses even if they have not yet been charged.
“Under the wording of this executive order, everyone is a priority,” said Jeremy McKinney, a local immigration lawyer. “This is outrageous. It actually threatens our public safety. Why? Because here [in North Carolina] most traffic offenses are misdemeanors. So under the wording of President Trump’s executive order, anyone that’s ever been charged with a traffic offense is an enforcement priority and subject to arrest and detention by ICE. Under this broad language everyone is a priority; therefore no one is. The local detention centers and regional detention centers will now seek a place for everyone. Instead of the very people President Trump says he wants to focus on, our detention centers and our courts are about to overflow with everyday people: landscapers, bricklayers, childcare workers. Well, we say, ‘Not in Greensboro.’ We say, ‘Not again.’”
The executive order also requires Homeland Security to reach out to states and local jurisdictions to execute new 287(g) agreements, a program created under the Clinton administration that was widely used under the administration of President George W. Bush, but largely dismantled under President Obama. Trump’s executive order also calls on Homeland Security to “authorize state and local law enforcement officials… to perform the functions of immigration officers in relation to the investigation, apprehension or detention of aliens in the United States.”
McKinney noted that the agreements are voluntary.
“Our local law enforcement has the power to ignore these requests from Big Brother to hold individuals that pose no danger to anyone here, that pose no danger to our community,” he said.
In an interview on Tuesday, Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines rejected the notion that the city would declare itself a “sanctuary city,” as some residents have advocated, noting that the state General Assembly passed a law to prohibit cities from adopting the designation. But he said he doesn’t believe Winston-Salem police officers have any business enforcing immigration law.
“I think our policy is pretty clear: Our police officers have a lot to do,” Joines said. “We’re not going to take on the role of the federal government. Our mission is clearly stated. I don’t know that we need to take any more action to reaffirm.”
“We are a city that values inclusion and diversity as part of our mission statement,” he added. “We have a very active program in our human relations department. It’s prima facie that it’s part of our mission to do that. It’s my personal position to very strongly promoted inclusion and diversity.”
City Manager Lee Garrity added that the city does not hold a 287(g) agreement with Homeland Security.
County-level policies could potentially have a more significant impact on undocumented immigrants considering that the county sheriff holds responsibility for operating jails, which often coordinate with the federal government to initiate deportation proceedings.
Forsyth County Sheriff Bill Schatzman is not considering entering into a 287(g) agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, according to Lonnie Albright, the police attorney for the county. Albright planned to meet with Schatzman on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the department’s continued participation in the FaithAction ID program, which was set up in part to build trust between law enforcement and undocumented persons.
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes did not respond to inquiries on the matter before press time. Barnes spoke at rallies for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the Triad during the campaign last year, and the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office participated in the 287(g) program in 2009 and 2010.
At the press conference, Guilford County School Board Chair Alan Duncan said that fear of deportation in light of Trump’s executive orders has already prompted some undocumented parents to keep their children out of school, clarifying that he was speaking on his own behalf and not for the board.
Directly addressing “the children of Guilford County who are undocumented,” Duncan said, “By law — and it is still the law — we are not allowed to even ask if those students are documented or undocumented. Rather, it’s our duty to serve and provide the best possible education that we can to every single student that we have. And we as a board — and I believe we as a people in this county — are proud, yes, proud, to be able to offer that to all of our students. And I really make a plea: Please don’t hold your children away. We are not going to ask whether your child is documented or undocumented. What we’re gonna ask is: ‘How can we best serve the educational needs of your children?’”
One of the executive orders halted refugee admissions from Syria until a new vetting procedure is established and then cut the number of people admitted by half, and suspended refugee admissions from all countries for 120 days.
“I don’t know anybody in Syria, but I know that I have family there,” Mayor Vaughan said. “And when I see the pictures of detention centers and what’s going on in that country my heart breaks on a regular basis. And we have people who are fleeing terrorism; they are not terrorists.”
Doha AlTaki, a Syrian refugee who settled in Greensboro six months ago, told reporters and others at the press conference: “Because I am Syrian, I am not [a] terrorist. Because I am Muslim, I am not [a] terrorist. Because I wear a headscarf, I am not [a] terrorist. I am [a] human being. I want to be a part of this community. I want to share my experience with you. I want to benefit from having you share your experience with me…. We are happy to be here in America, especially in Greensboro, to live in peace.”
The executive order addressing removal of undocumented immigrants also takes aim at so-called sanctuary cities and counties, reading, “Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States. These jurisdictions have caused irreparable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our republic.”
The order attempts to withhold federal funds from so-called “sanctuary jurisdictions” by giving the US attorney general discretion to designate what cities or counties are defined as such, block federal grants, and take enforcement action against local jurisdictions that are deemed to be hindering the enforcement of federal law.
In an interview, Vaughan signaled reluctance to support any resolution to declare Greensboro a “sanctuary city,” as some cities are doing as a gesture of defiance towards the Trump administration, and as residents are advocating in neighboring Winston-Salem. The state legislature also outlawed so-called “sanctuary cities” in 2015.
“There isn’t a definition of a sanctuary city,” Vaughan said. “We’re a ‘stranger to neighbor’ city. We are not going to change that and do business any differently.”
This story was updated on Jan. 28 and Jan. 31 to reflect new developments and additional reporting.