Immigrant advocates and elected officials across North Carolina are speaking out against a series of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests over the last week.
Leaders in the Triangle, including several mayors, strongly condemned the arrests of some 25 people in that region of the state, according to the Herald-Sun of Durham.
In the mountains, ICE agents confirmed arrests of at least 12 individuals in Buncombe and Henderson counties Saturday, with some activists claiming as many as 14 had been detained.
Asheville-based immigrant advocacy group Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción (CIMA) called a press conference Saturday afternoon on the steps of the federal courthouse in Asheville to publicize and denounce ICE activity while seeking funds to help with detainees’ legal efforts. The quickly organized event drew dozens, including news media members, local clergy, elected officials, political candidates and CIMA supporters.
Addressing the crowd, Bruno Hinojosa of CIMA condemned ICE for “unjust moves,” involving the arrests of seven individuals he knew of at the time.
Although CIMA was uncertain of the identities of some of those arrested, the event focused on one man, Carlos, a resident of Asheville’s Emma community whom ICE agents arrested as he was leaving for a job Saturday morning with his friend Balentin, according to Hinojosa and others who spoke, including Carlos’ wife, Helen. These individuals declined to use their last names.
“No one should ever experience that, being kidnapped when you are on your way to work,” Hinojosa said.
“I just want my husband to come home,” Helen told the crowd. “It’s all because he was Mexican. It is not fair.”
As Helen wept, Balentin held her. In response, Hinojosa expressed outrage: “No one should be taken from their family, not anyone, no matter what the circumstances.”
Both Helen and Balentin identified as U.S. citizens but said they did not want to use their last names due to concerns about possible ICE reprisals. They also did not give Carlos’ full name.
Several members of the Asheville City Council spoke in opposition to ICE activity, as did Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara.
“What happened this morning, with people being detained, that is not us,” she said. “We need to stand together … with the immigrant community.”
Others called for more specific political action. Democratic candidate for Buncombe County Sheriff Daryl Fisher urged for members of the community to support his campaign and vote in the upcoming primary, drawing groans from portions of the audience.
Meanwhile in the Triangle, the mayor of Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro spoke out against the arrests there.
“(ICE) made arrests of valued Durham residents, including people who are parents of U.S. citizens,” Mayor Steve Shewel said. “As mayor of the City of Durham, I condemn these arrests in the strongest possible terms.”
ICE’s account of its actions
ICE spokeman Bryan Cox confirmed some facts about the arrests, but disputed some of the assertions others were making.
“ICE arrested approximately a dozen unlawfully present foreign nationals across Western North Carolina today,” he told Carolina Public Press on Saturday. “The majority of those arrested have criminal convictions beyond their immigration status or … illegally reentered the United States after a previous deportation.”
He described the ICE presence across the state as “part of our everyday, ongoing enforcement activity.”
“ICE continues to focus its limited resources first and foremost on those who pose the greatest threat to public safety and any suggestions as to ICE engaging in random or indiscriminate enforcement are categorically false,” Cox said.
“ICE only conducts targeted enforcement. ICE does not conduct checkpoints, raids or sweeps that target aliens indiscriminately. The agency’s arrest stats reflect this reality. Nationally, 92 percent of all persons arrested by ICE in FY17 either had a criminal conviction, a pending criminal charge, or were already subject to a removal order issued by a federal immigration judge.”
The nature of any criminal charges related to those arrested in recent days was difficult to confirm because CIMA has not used their full names and ICE will not discuss individuals without having their full names.
The Citizen Times of Asheville reported a response from immigrant advocates to ICE’s position on the arrestees’ criminal status, suggesting that many of those picked up had “only” drunk driving charges on their record.
Asked about this by CPP, Cox responded Sunday: “As far as describing a criminal record as ‘only’ a drunken driving conviction, that’s a matter of opinion, and I’m not going to provide any type of editorial statement,” he said.
“I’d simply reiterate that the majority of individuals arrested were not only unlawfully present in the United States, but had subsequently been arrested and convicted of criminal offenses beyond anything to do with their immigration status.”
Local law enforcement involvement?
One issue that arose in several jurisdictions was the degree of local law enforcement cooperation with ICE. According to the Herald-Sun, the mayors of Chapel Hill and Carrboro and Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood all went on record in denying prior knowledge of the arrests and said their own police and sheriff’s officers did not assist the federal agents.
Some confusion arose about the degree of local cooperation in the west due to statements at the Asheville press conference. CIMA members questioned why local law enforcement had not tipped them off about the impending arrests.
However, it later became clear that local officials were only informed after the arrests. “The Asheville Police Department is aware of enforcement that (ICE) has conducted in Western North Carolina over the weekend,” Asheville police spokesperson Christina Hallingse told CPP.
“The Asheville Police Department has not participated in these operations in any manner. The two arrests (in Buncombe County) that were made (Saturday) took place in the county, not within city limits.”
Activists at Saturday’s event also questioned the role of Hendersonville and Henderson County officials in helping ICE, even stating that some detainees were possibly being held there.
However, Henderson County spokespeople denied housing any ICE detainees, which jail records also apparently confirmed, according to a Sunday Citizen Times report.
CIMA surveillance of ICE
During Saturday’s event, CIMA members encouraged resistance to ICE and advised attendees to watch for agents in unmarked vehicles in their neighborhoods. On Sunday and Monday, the organization’s Facebook page showed this idea in action.
CIMA posted footage Saturday that it claimed depicted ICE agents lunching at a barbecue restaurant in Black Mountain, then posted video footage of the purported agents en route from Black Mountain to Asheville.
Similar footage from Edneyville, a rural community in Henderson County, appeared on the CIMA Facebook page Monday morning, targeting an SUV in an Ingles supermarket parking lot there.
Asked about the footage by CPP, ICE spokesperson Cox suggested that such activity might cross a line.
“Interfering with a federal law enforcement officer could be grounds for arrest,” he said Sunday. “That said, no one was arrested for doing so today.”
Legal assistance efforts
In both the central and western portions of the state, immigrant advocacy groups have emphasized their role in supporting the families of those arrested.
In the Triangle, El Centro Hispano’s GoFundMe page had raised $7,335 out of a $30,000 goal for the families’ legal fees as of Monday morning, the Herald-Sun reported.
During Saturday’s event in Asheville, CIMA members warned of the steep legal cost of pushing for bond for the arrestees and then fighting to oppose their further detention and potential deportation. At the conclusion of the event, they passed around a bag for donations.
Several CIMA-affiliated fundraising efforts on behalf of the affected immigrant families in the mountain region appeared to be underway on social media Monday, with one citing more than $24,000 raised on their behalf.
CIMA had not responded to a CPP request for additional information at the time of this article’s publication.