“All He’s Ever Done Is Work”

Bear Creek Arsenal. Moore Machine. Tyson Chicken. Pentair. Coty. At least 30 people were arrested and up to 70 persons detained at Bear Creek Arsenal this morning during an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) workplace raid that started at 8:00 am there and possibly at other Sanford, North Carolina factories. ICE presence was visible on the roads Tuesday, February 5, 2019, with clearly marked vehicles setting up several checkpoints in this rural community 35 miles south of Chapel Hill in the state’s Piedmont region. Next to them other vehicles, such as a white “Factory Outlet” van, were positioned, perhaps to haul people away.

A day later, a 27 year old who live streamed from the parking lot of Bear Creek Arsenal and spoke to the press was himself later arrested, charged with “communication threats,” as reports began to come in about more widespread immigration arrests occurring in other Piedmont cities such as Raleigh, Durham and especially Charlotte, where up to 30 people have been picked up at 10 traffic stops and at least one worksite.

Spanish-language newspaper chain QuéPasaNoticias reported receiving many calls and texts Tuesday morning, calculating about 70 arrests, while local activist group AlertaMigratoriaNC issued alerts about widespread checkpoints and raids at Bear Creek Arsenal and other factories at the beginning of the work day.

ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox confirmed 30 arrests to local news outlets WRAL-TV and The News Observer, preferring not to clarify at which facility those arrests took place. At 1:30 pm, Lee County Sheriff Tracy Carter issued a statement declaring that “there were approximately 30 individuals taken into custody” this morning, adding that they “did assist with this operation upon request by federal officials.” Later, Bear Creek Arsenal confirmed that arrests were made at their Sanford facility due to “identity theft or fraudulent information” and that they had “cooperated with Homeland Security (the government department overseeing ICE) during this lengthy process.”

“Identity theft,” ICE’s rationale for the arrests, is generally thought to refer to criminals using someone’s personal data to make purchases or empty bank accounts.  ICE itself differentiates between “identity fraud” and “identity theft,” with the latter being a crime that involves the actual impersonation of another person, “living or dead.”

More importantly, the Supreme Court decided unanimously in 2009, in Flores-Figueroa v United States, that a Mexican immigrant was not guilty of “aggravated identity theft,” which incurs a mandatory two-year prison sentence, because the burden of proof rested with the government to show that he had knowingly stolen the identify of another person, which it had failed to do.

But at Bear Creek, people are being accused of using falsified documents to work at low-paying jobs and pay into someone else’s social security and other benefits packages, or more likely to no one but directly into the federal government’s coffers. These taxes are deducted at the source by the employer before the employee is paid, and are extra revenue for the government if a tax refund remains unclaimed the following year.

In any event, it is need, not criminal intent, that is probably the motive, as “Hellen” wrote in the comments section of QuéPasaNoticias: “Hay personas que por necesidad trabajan con documentos legales de otras personas ☹” (“There are people who out of necessity work with other people’s legal documents ☹”).

Christian Canales was at the Bear Creek Arsenal plant to meet some friends who had called for his help. The officer handed him back his pink and white North Carolina driver’s license. “This guy’s coming in. He’s good,” the officer radioed. “Yeah, for real,” Christian said.

Back in his car, Christian streamed his encounter live on Facebook. Switching easily between fluent English and Spanish, he warned others to steer clear of the area. “A fucking country built on fucking immigrants and y’all wanna deport the people who are working their asses off,” he commented bitterly as he was driving out of the parking lot.

Even though he left the area, Christian was later arrested, charged with “communication threats” and non-impaired driving with a revoked license. His court date was set for February 18 and with a bond set at $5,000.

Bear Creek Arsenal is a company that manufactures firearms. The self-proclaimed “family company” has as its main product the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, which Rolling Stone magazine called “the mass shooter’s weapon of choice.” Adam Lanza, James Holmes, the San Bernardino killers and Omar Mateen used AR-15’s, albeit models made by other manufacturers. The AR-15 was also used by Nikolas Cruz to shoot and kill 17 students and injure another 17 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida about a year ago, on February 14, 2018.

Designed in 1956 as a military weapon, the AR-15 was subject to a ban under the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act.  Also known as the Assault Weapons Ban, the act was instituted under President Bill Clinton in 1994, and allowed to expire 10 years later, in 2004, under President George W. Bush. New Jersey still maintains a ban on this assault rifle.

Factories in Sanford were not the only places where ICE was active in the area. Also on Tuesday morning, QuéPasa reported that six men were arrested on their way to construction jobs in Raleigh, the state capital, about 40 miles from Sanford, in three separate incidences. One man’s wife found out when he was finally allowed to call her back, in order to ask her to advise his employers that his van full of equipment had been left on one of the city’s main arteries. Though he needs daily doses of medication for diabetes and cholesterol, she was informed that he was being transported to Georgia.

Tearfully, she explained, “Él no tenía nada pendiente con la ley. Ha vivido 13 años en este país sin cometer delitos. No tiene vicios ni nada, él solo se ha dedicado a trabajar.”(“He has never been in trouble with the law. He’s lived in this country for thirteen years without committing any crime. He has no bad habits whatsoever, all he’s ever done is work.”)

To see sheriffs work in tandem with ICE stands in marked contrast to trends in other areas of the country, where legal frameworks have been instituted to specifically prevent that type of cooperation for the sake of public safety.  California and Connecticut wrote the Trust Act in 2013, which the ACLU of Northern California deems “a minimum standard,” in order to preserve the relationship between law enforcement and immigrant communities, as well as staunch the diversion of meagre police resources from fighting violent crime to enforcing immigration violations. Immigrants will not speak to police officers investigating violent crimes if they are afraid the police will turn them over to ICE, and police departments do not have the time and money to spend on immigration as they struggle to keep communities safe.

In the same vein and also on Tuesday, nearby Forsyth County’s Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr announced at a press conference that he will terminate his contract with ICE allowing the government agency to hold immigrants in county jails. “What this means is the sheriff’s office will no longer house immigration violators,” Kimbrough said. “The sheriff’s office is not an extension, and will never be an extension, of immigration services. We are not helping ICE.”

As recently as two years ago, this seemed to be the direction Sanford was going in. In November 2015, the city, where out of a population of 30,000 one in four is Latinx, finished a three year project entitled “Building Integrated Communities” aimed at improving immigrant-police relations. Findings criticized immigration checkpoints and the lack of language services, and recommended the provision of valid identification cards to undocumented immigrants.

In a quote from the project’s summary, a participant explains through a translator, “The ID is the most important solution to all of these problems. We have to have IDs. We pay taxes whenever we go to the store; we deserve this. It solves a lot of the other problems. We can’t live here without ID. Our children are given IDs when they go to school; how come we can’t get IDs?”

Several businesses in Sanford closed Tuesday, with scribbled and typed signs hastily taped to their front doors. A teacher who declined to be named told Univision 40 TV that parents had already cancelled teacher conferences for that afternoon. Another local teacher lamented the trauma inflicted on children due to losing a parent this way.

Legalized discrimination is the third step on the ladder of prejudice described in 1954 by psychologist Gordon Allport, after the acceptance of hate speech and social exclusion, and the fifth step on the road to genocide developed in 1996 by Gregory Stanton of “Genocide Watch,” after the creation of special militias and the broadcast of “polarizing propaganda,” such as Tuesday’s State of the Union address in which US President Trump declared, “Year after year, countless Americans are murdered by criminal illegal aliens.”

Two major studies last year found that undocumented immigrants statistically commit fewer crimes than native-born citizens and that the presence of undocumented immigrants may actually decrease the crime rate. The first study, published in the May issue of Criminology, contends that “the relationship between undocumented immigration and violent crime is generally negative.” The second study, published a month later by libertarian think-tank Cato Institute, was entitled “The White House’s Misleading & Error Ridden Narrative on Immigrants and Crime.”

Reverend William Barber’s Poor People’s Campaign is protesting Wednesday evening in downtown Raleigh and including justice for the immigrants in their demands for a #MoralAgenda. AlertaMigratoriaNC asks that if you want to support those detained and/or disagree with the arrest of Christian Canales that you call Sheriff Tracy Carter at (919) 775 5531 and ask for their release.

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