At a press conference in Charlotte, North Carolina on Friday, February 8, 2019, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regional director Sean Gallagher announced a “new normal” for his agency in terms of how, where and why they will be arresting people they deem to be immigration violators. The conference was called because of the sudden and drastic uptick in immigrant arrests in Central North Carolina over the last three days, which ICE confirms have reached 230.
The recent wave began on Wednesday with the 8:00 AM raid of a gun manufacturing factory in Sanford, resulting in 30 arrests. Soon increasing reports of other arrests in nearby towns began to be relayed by phone, text and social media, between friends, lawyers and charitable organizations. Charlotte’s Centro Hispano heard about an arrest at an apartment complex, a gas station, and in front of a child being dropped off at school. Speaking in Spanish, one woman told Channel 11 news, “They came with five cars and then five more came to take him away.”
Gallagher blamed area sheriffs who refuse to participate in 287(g), a policy enacting cooperation between law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS, which oversees ICE) wherein local jails respect ICE requests, whenever they suspect someone arrested for a crime may also be undocumented, to hold such persons until ICE arrives. The regional director claimed that because local sheriffs and police are not turning offenders over to ICE, ICE is being forced to go into the community to seek them out. And when they do so, ICE agents may also make “collateral arrests,” detaining anyone in the area who is not capable of providing official documentation to prove their citizenship or legal status at their discretion.
When a reporter asked Mr Gallagher, “How many of these people are actually a threat to homeland security?”, Mr Gallagher replied that if local police and sheriffs do not comply with 287(g), “I wouldn’t have to put so many officers in the street and you wouldn’t have so many of these people going to work being arrested.”
It’s a move reflective of the hostage-taking negotiating style of the Trump Administration, like shutting down the government and starving low-wage federal workers and SNAP recipients, or separating small children from their parents at the border. If you don’t want working people, immigrants and refugees used as pawns, fund the wall and hand over enough immigrants to satisfy the current appetite for scapegoats and fulfill the president’s nativist campaign promises. Give us the “bad hombres” and the “good immigrants” can go free.
Ironically most of the people arrested at Bear Creek Arsenal, the gun manufacturer in Sanford, weren’t even men. Christian Canales, who live streamed meeting ICE officers at the factory and was later arrested and released for “communication threats,” noted that most of the employees detained were women, and the majority of them from El Salvador. One of them was held for nine hours before being released to take care of her handicapped child. Bear Creek’s main product is the AR-15, the automatic rifle notoriously employed in recent U.S. mass shootings.
Sanford is in Lee County, whose sheriff supports and cooperates with ICE activity. But the Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department printed a statement on Friday February 8 unequivocally reiterating their position against 287(g). “The CMPD has not and will not participate in ICE immigration enforcement operations…. CMPD policy mandates that officers are required to treat everyone whom they have contact with equally and without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, religion, age, citizenship, sexual orientation or any other arbitrary stereotype.”
Recently elected Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden ended 287(g) on his first day in office in December 2018, as did Sheriff Gerald Baker, his counterpart in Wake County, location of the state’s capital, Raleigh, who released 18 persons on immigration hold from the county jail on December 18. Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead reaffirmed Durham policy not to honor ICE detainers as soon as he came into office as well. Sheriff Charles Blackwood of Orange County, where Chapel Hill is located, declared that Orange County has not collaborated with ICE since 2014.