Opinion

Stand with Durham’s immigrant community. Vote Birkhead for sheriff. -- Tyler Kopp

Tyler Kopp
Tyler Kopp

In April, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided homes and businesses in Durham and around the Triangle, arresting dozens of our neighbors. Agents in bullet-proof vests took friends, separated families and terrorized Durham’s immigrant community. Because of ICE, there are children right here who will be lucky to ever see their parents again.

Durham isn’t unique – ICE is raiding communities all over the country. In 2017 alone, ICE conducted over 1,300 raids across the U.S. And the agency’s goal for 2018? 5,000 raids.

With numbers like these, you might assume there’s nothing we can do – but you’d be wrong. In Durham, we can take a stand against ICE by electing Clarence Birkhead for sheriff.

Birkhead has promised he will not cooperate with ICE under any circumstances. In contrast, our current sheriff, Mike Andrews, has worked with ICE to detain and deport our neighbors since 2014.

How does this work? Andrews’ role is simple. When the county arrests an undocumented person, the sheriff takes them to the jail. Detainees are fingerprinted and their information is shared in a national database. If ICE is interested in a detainee, they tell Andrews. He holds them at the jail until ICE picks them up within 48 hours.

If this sounds abrupt to you, you’re not the only one. It doesn’t matter if the detained person is innocent, or if the alleged crime is minor. Once an individual is in ICE’s custody, they disappear into our immigration system. There is almost no way to keep track of them. Right now, the neighbors ICE stole from our community this month could be in Charlotte. Or Lumpkin, Georgia. Or Arizona, or California. And no matter where they are, they are practically unreachable.

Here’s the issue: nothing about ICE’s detainer requests is obligatory. Sheriffs have every right to ignore ICE’s requests, and many, like the sheriff of Orange County, do just that. Andrews has said he fears losing federal funding if he does not comply with ICE. But earlier in April, a federal judge ruled it illegal for the Department of Justice to withhold funding for this reason.

The problem isn’t just ICE; it’s Andrews. Durham’s immigrant community no longer trusts local law enforcement. Just ask Iván Almonte, an activist who works with the Latinx and undocumented communities in Durham. Every day, he receives messages from families asking how they can stay safe when they see law enforcement in their neighborhoods.

“That’s not how people should feel,” Almonte said, in the middle of a story about a woman who called him after seeing a helicopter she feared might be searching for her. “It’s not fair to live that way, in constant fear.”

Birkhead has made clear that he will not honor ICE detainer requests, but Durham’s immigrants deserve more. They deserve to be listened to. Birkhead has already met with Latinx and undocumented groups in Durham, and if elected, he has committed to meeting with them quarterly. This may not instantly resolve the trust issues we have seen Andrews exacerbate.

Electing Clarence Birkhead does not mean ICE will stop raiding our community. Unfortunately, ICE still has the authority to show up unannounced, and right now, there’s not much we can do to change that. But while we can’t shape national policy when we vote in this election, we can shape local policy, and that matters to our neighbors in the immigrant community. By voting for Clarence Birkhead for sheriff, you are standing with those whose voices have been ignored for the past four years. You are sending a message that it is not OK, in Durham or anywhere, to separate families and friends based on what papers they have. You are telling ICE that they are not welcome in our city. Above all else, you are fighting for a Durham where every person has the right to feel safe.

Tyler Kopp is sophomore at Duke University majoring in Public Policy and Spanish. He focuses onmigration and human rights in the Americas. You can reach him at tyler.kopp@duke.edu

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