Federal immigration officials reportedly picked up 10 people this week in Orange and Chatham counties, according to local officials and Hispanic community advocates.
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle issued a statement Thursday morning confirming the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operations.
One man, who had an 8-year-old DWI conviction, was arrested while taking out the trash, said Andrew Willis Garces, an organizing coordinator for Siembra NC. Others were picked up while ICE agents were looking for other Hispanic people they had come to arrest, said Ilana Dubester, with Hispanic Liasion in Siler City.
Hispanic Liasion, El Centro Hispano and Siembra NC, a Greensboro-based immigrant group, is connecting some of those who were detained and their families with financial and legal help. All have been taken to a detention center in Georgia. Beckie Moriello, with the Raleigh Immigration Law Firm, said the first step for her clients will be filing for a bond hearing.
Officials with El Centro Hispano, which has offices in Durham and Carrboro, confirmed the Orange County raids took place this week in Carrboro, Chapel Hill and Hillsborough. A Facebook post from the N.C. Dream Coalition said raids were at Collins Crossing in Carrboro, and at mobile home parks on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the Pinegate and Ephesus Church Road apartments in Chapel Hill.
El Centro spokesman Eliazar Posada said ICE arrested two people at their Carrboro work sites, three people at their Chapel Hill homes and two people at home in Hillsborough on Tuesday.
Lavelle reassured residents in her statement that the Carrboro Police Department was not involved. Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood said he also heard about the raids after ICE made its arrests.
ICE does not always alert local law enforcement before making its arrests, said ICE spokesman Bryan Cox.
"Not necessarily," Cox said. "In jurisdictions that cooperate with ICE, we work with local jurisdictions to the extent permissible in accordance with relevant law and policy."
"You’ll need to ask local jurisdictions about their policies, as I cannot speak for them," he added.
The police chiefs in Carrboro and Chapel Hill have said immigration enforcement is not a priority for their officers. Chapel Hill Chief Chris Blue reiterated that Thursday.
"The Chapel Hill Police Department’s position will always reflect our belief that immigration enforcement is best left to the federal agencies,” Blue said. “We hope that the most vulnerable among us will see us as the Guardians of the Hill, not as an entity to be feared.”
It's also not a priority for the Sheriff's Office, Blackwood said.
ICE "is not real happy with us," because the Sheriff’s Office doesn't honor ICE detainers, he said. The detainers, which ask local law enforcement to hold someone who is in the country illegaly and who has been arrested for 48 hours until they can be picked up, are not signed by a judge, he said, and thus are a request and not an order.
In Orange County, ICE is automatically alerted when someone is arrested and fingerprinted. The county does not participate in the federal 287(g) or Secure Communities immigration enforcement programs.
“Unless you have an order to commit someone to the jail and hold them, you legally can’t do it,” Blackwood said of the detainers. “Doing so would place the county and me in jeopardy of violating their civil rights and create a lawsuit, which is not what we want to do.”
If someone arrested on local, state or federal charges is able to pay his bail before ICE shows up, he can go free, Blackwood said. That’s rare for suspects facing more serious charges, such as murder, he added.
ICE officials “say it’s problematic for them,” Blackwood said. “Their position then is the sheriff doesn’t want to play, so we’ll just do what we’re going to do and not tell them, so we don’t get a call when they come to the county.”
Cox said ICE has fewer than 20,000 employees nationwide. Given the estimate that there are approximately 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal permission, ICE attempts to maximize its available, "finite" resources, he said.
“ICE makes arrests every day in accordance with its routine, ongoing targeted enforcement,” he said. “ICE does not conduct checkpoints nor sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately.”
However, if ICE officials come into contact with other people living in the country without legal permission in the process of arresting a specific individual at a specific address, “we will arrest them too,” Cox said. “We are not going to turn a blind eye.”
Lavelle said Carrboro is working with Chapel Hill, Hillsborough and Orange County, along with their community partners, to contact the family members of those who were detained and make sure they have legal representation. Chapel Hill also is offering crisis counselors to support family members of those detained and other affected residents, Mayor Pam Hemminger said.
The "Carrboro Board of Aldermen firmly believes that immigrants are an integral part of our community and should be welcomed and supported," Lavelle said.
"Finally, on a personal note, I cannot adequately express how frightening this news must be for our neighbors who live in constant fear that these actions may happen on any given day in our town," Lavelle said. "My heart hurts for our community. I look forward to a future when we live in a nation where all people are treated with compassion and respect, regardless of their immigration status."
Hemminger also responded Thursday, saying the town only learned about them Wednesday evening. The Town Council "is committed to ensuring that Chapel Hill is a safe and welcoming place for everyone," she said.
"We are deeply disturbed by the heightened fear and disruption to families that these raids have caused. We want to be clear that the Chapel Hill Police Department did not and will not participate in these actions," Hemminger said. "Furthermore, Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue and I wish to reassure our entire community that our public safety officers are committed to serving every resident and visitor in our community, regardless of citizenship status."
El Centro Hispano will host a "know your rights " session during its Faith ID event at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, April 14, at the Carrboro Century Center, 100 N. Greensboro St. Local officials, including Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue, Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton and Carrboro Alderman Damon Seils, also will be there to answer questions.
Anyone affected by the raids can contact the town of Chapel Hill to connect with crisis counselors at 919-968-2806. The town also offered these links to additional resources:
▪ Emergency Planning Guide for North Carolina Immigrants: In English and Spanish at bit.ly/2v6LkIo
▪ Know Your Rights: In various languages at bit.ly/2lubq2c
▪ El Centro Hispano: 919-945-0132; elcentronc.org
Carrboro Mayor's statement
It has come to our attention that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have been operating in Orange County over the past two days. We believe they have detained at least two Carrboro residents and at least four other county residents.
First, I want to make clear to the community that the Carrboro Police Department was not involved in these actions. As our Police Chief Walter Horton stated last year, “Immigration status has never been a concern or priority to the Carrboro Police Department. We are here to serve all community members.”
Since learning of ICE’s actions, Town officials have been working with representatives of El Centro Hispano and other community partners to contact the family members of the detainees and to ensure that they have adequate legal representation.
Approximately one in five Carrboro residents were born outside the United States. The Carrboro Board of Aldermen firmly believes that immigrants are an integral part of our community and should be welcomed and supported. For many years, we have advocated for comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform. It is essential that all residents of Carrboro feel safe and secure, regardless of their national origin or immigration status, and that they receive due process and legal representation.
We will continue to cooperate with our colleagues in Orange County, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough to keep the community informed about this week’s incidents. We also will continue to support the work of our community partners to educate residents about their rights, and to offer information and resources for residents who need assistance.
Finally, on a personal note, I cannot adequately express how frightening this news must be for our neighbors who live in constant fear that these actions may happen on any given day in our town. My heart hurts for our community. I look forward to a future when we live in a nation where all people are treated with compassion and respect, regardless of their immigration status.
— Carrboro Mayor Lydia E. Lavelle