A plan to spend county money to expand services for refugee and immigrants drew criticism from some Orange County residents Tuesday.
The Orange County commissioners approved giving $79,628 from the county’s Social Justice Fund to help Carrboro-based nonprofit agencies El Centro Hispano and the Refugee Support Center expand their services in response to federal immigration policy changes.
Orange County resident Riley Ruske said it’s a crime to harbor and aid illegal immigrants, and spending the money may violate the board’s oath of office. He noted the El Centro application lists “undocumented” immigrants among its clients.
“The term ‘undocumented’ is used by politicians and supporters of illegal immigration to mask the fact that these persons have committed the crime of illegal entry into the United States,” Ruske said.
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“In addition to illegal entry, these foreign nationals have robbed United States citizens of jobs, education, health care and social services. They cause reduced wages and they transfer billions of dollars out of the U.S. economy by sending these dollars to their home countries. And all that stuff is even before mentioning human and drug trafficking, gang violence and other additional criminal acts,” he said.
Statistics show immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than citizens from the same walk of life, Chapel Hill resident Heather Brutz countered.
“I have had friends in my life who, when they first came to this country, they didn’t have the proper documents. They are wonderful people who are outstanding citizens and don’t commit crimes and work very hard to contribute to society,” Brutz said. “I think that we should be a welcoming community.”
Refugees are in the country legally, said Flicka Bateman, director of the Refugee Support Center.
Most of Orange County’s 1,200 refugees are from Myanmar (Burma), 32 are from Syria, 50 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and a few Iraqis were U.S. military translators, she said.
The center will use $14,120 to replace office space it recently lost and work with clients on language skills and employment issues. The work reflects the economic hardships that refugees are facing from President Donald Trump’s recent cuts to resettlement agency funding, officials said.
El Centro will use $54,168 to expand immigration legal services and to expand its education and outreach services.
It’s an extraordinary time for those nonprofits, Commissioners Chairman Mark Dorosin said, and critical because of increased discrimination and violence.
“If you get to spend any time talking to folks in those communities – documented or undocumented – they’re fearful of vigilante violence, they’re fearful of being targeted by police, their children, many of whom were born in the United States, are fearful about going to school and coming home and finding that their parents won’t be there,” Dorosin said.
County Attorney John Roberts noted the county’s rules do not contradict federal immigration law.