DURHAM -- More than 1,300 Latinos, Muslims, refugees, immigrants, their families and supporters filled Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Sunday to affirm Durham as a city of inclusion.
The event, which organizers insisted was not a protest, was hosted by the N.C. Congress of Latino Organizations (NCCLO) and Durham Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods (Durham C.A.N) and conducted in both English and Spanish.
“We hope that as we leave here, we’re not going to be leaving with confusion but rather with hope,” said Banlly Baquedano, a representative of Iglesia Hispana Emanuel and mother of two.
The forum is on the heels of a Feb. 20 checkpoint set up near Durham’s School of Creative Studies.
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Durham County Sheriff’s Office officials said the checkpoint was in response to speeding complaints not an attempt to trap immigrants. The following day the department announced appointment of Capt. Raheem Aleem -- a Spanish-speaking Muslim officer -- as its new liaison to the Hispanic community.
Sheriff’s Maj. Paul Martin spoke on behalf of the department at Sunday’s event.
“Our main concern at the Durham County Sheriff’s Department is the fact that rumors will drive people deeper into the underground,” Martin said, citing concerns of slumlords and loan sharks taking advantage of fear.
Durham Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis said as a mother and resident, she is concerned about what is happening in the nation.
“Checkpoints in the city of Durham have been directed to cease and desist,” Davis said.
Organizers said the purpose of Sunday’s gathering was to meet with decision makers representing Durham’s law enforcement agencies, city, county and school leaders to clarify the way authorities will interact with immigrants in the face of “federal pressure” to deport or criminalize them.
The message of Sunday’s forum was similar to one held in late February at St. Thomas More Catholic Church with police chiefs from Chapel Hill and Carrboro, that despite President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order that barred Syrian refugees indefinitely and suspends entry of refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries, there have not been local Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.
“We’re here as a reaction to the fact that the highest office in this nation is openly hostile in pursuing a campaign against nearly all people, that one sliver of this mission targeting Muslims, immigrants and refugees whether we came by way of South America or East Africa, paperless or duty free seeks to erode our humanity on the basis of status,” said Sijal Nasralla, the first U.S.-born, Southern raised member of his refugee family and representative of Church World Services.
Accountability, Nasralla said, is knowing “asylum is achievable” and the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency “in schools should be absolutely inconceivable.”
Bert L’Homme, Durham Public Schools superintendent, said DPS is not providing confidential student information to ICE. He affirmed that DPS is open to all.
Wendy Jacobs, Durham County Commissioners chairwoman, agreed with L’Homme.
Speaking in Spanish, City Councilman Steve Schewel said the Faith ID, an unofficial alternative ID promoted by Durham-based El Centro Hispano (The Hispanic Center) that requires proof of identification and address, is acceptable in Durham.
“Querio ustedes familia prospero aqui,” Schewel said -- translated to mean he wants families to prosper in the city.
Those in attendance were connected with information about “Know Your Rights” workshops, immigration clinics.
The next two are scheduled from 3 to 4:30 p.m. March 12 and April 9 at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 810 W. Chapel Hill St.
Free legal services for power of attorney will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 25 and April 22 at the church.