Immigration activists and their supporters gathered in downtown Raleigh on Thursday to applaud Gerald Baker’s upset victory in the Wake County sheriff’s race.
They also vowed to hold Baker accountable after he promised to end a controversial immigration program that has led to more than 1,000 deportations in Wake in less than five years.
The rally was hosted by Familia Si, 287(g) NO, a campaign aimed at ending Wake County’s participation in the program that allows local law enforcement agencies to partner with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Ivana Gonzalez, a Wake County resident and one of the organizers of the rally, said she was pleased with Baker’s victory Tuesday.
“But this is just the beginning. We are here to make sure change happens within,” Gonzalez said. “Baker needs our support. But we need to make sure he keeps his promise to make sure everything is done.”
Baker, who worked as a sheriff’s deputy in Wake for 28 years before he retired in May, won more than 54 percent of the vote. He ousted Donnie Harrison, who was first elected in 2002 and was seeking a fifth term.
In 2007, Harrison first received funding from the Wake County Board of Commissioners to hire 12 full-time 287(g) officers, who could act in some ways as federal immigration agents.
At the time, North Carolina had the most sheriffs who volunteered to participate in the program, according to a study by Felicia Arriaga, an assistant professor of sociology at Appalachian State University.
Between 2013 and 2017, the Wake sheriff’s office processed nearly 11,000 people through the 287(g) program. Of those, 1,483 people were deported, according to previous N&O reporting.
“What motivated us was this system that has been separating our families,” Griselda Alonso said through a Spanish interpreter at the rally.
The event in front of the Wake County Courthouse drew about 30 activists, including members of the citizen-led Police Accountability Community Task Force, the North Carolina A. Philip Randolph Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.
Marcus R. Bass, a spokesman with Advance Carolina, a nonprofit in Raleigh that advocates for African-American voter participation in statewide politics, quoted famed civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.
“None of us are free until all of us are free,” he said.
“Today, this is a a referendum on humanity,” Bass continued. “Why is this important? Since the end of slavery, the criminal justice system has been used to break apart families. Humanity, freedom and equality rests solely on the criminal justice system.”
Bass said Baker’s victory was “a resounding rejection of Donnie Harrison.”
Camilo Coronilla of Fuquay-Varina observed his 47th birthday Thursday in the Wake County jail.
His wife, Carolina Campos, said her husband, who works as a carpenter, was delivering supplies to a co-worker when he was stopped Saturday and charged with driving without a license.
Campos pulled out of her purse a copy of the citation that showed her husband’s pickup truck was stopped at 5:44 p.m.
Coronilla cannot be released from custody because deputies who work with ICE determined he is in the country illegally, his wife said.
Although Campos spoke into a microphone, she was barely audible while saying her husband and his family are law-abiding people.
“We do not steal. We do not kill. We do not commit any crime,” she said. “We just want our husband back.”
Coronilla’s teenage daughter, Mayra Campos, who was holding her toddler sister, said her father was the victim of racial profiling.
“This is not only affecting our family, it’s affecting the community we’re in,” she said. “This is dreadful and scary for a child.”
Voters in North Carolina’s seven largest counties elected black sheriffs this week. The candidates say they their victories are due in part to their opposition to hardline immigration policies.
Leading up to the election in Wake, the American Civil Liberties Union spent $100,000 to air a radio ad that accused Harrison of “pushing Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, tearing families apart and stoking racial tensions.”
Wake is among six North Carolina sheriff’s offices that participate in 287(g). Through the program, a suspect who is already detained for a criminal offense can be run through a national database. If it becomes clear the suspect is in the country illegally, ICE can request a detainer and take the person into federal custody.
Karen Anderson, the executive director of ACLU North Carolina, told the rally participants that 287(g) “does not make our communities safer.
“Instead, it terrorizes our immigrant friends and our neighbors, it encourages racial profiling and tears families apart, as we so heartfelt heard today, and diverts resources from true community needs,” she said.
“At this time in our history, as the Trump administration pursues a vicious anti-immigrant agenda, the policies of local government are more important than ever. On Tuesday, Wake County voters made it clear: They do not want their local government using county resources to fuel Trump’s deportation machine.”