An Attack on Immigrants and the Will of Voters in North Carolina

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On February 25th, North Carolina governor Roy Cooper gave the State of the State address. It was, unsurprisingly, a monotonous and color-blind speech wherein he refused to address issues that specifically target communities of color, aside from generic ones like education, and even then he didn’t use language that indicates any intentions to ensure that racial and ethnic gaps are addressed. This is exceedingly disappointing, not just because the state suffers from an undeniable racial gap, but also because the immigrant community in North Carolina has persistently been under attack since the election of President Donald Trump in 2016; and since the 2018 midterm elections that attack has been a greater priority for federal agents of the Immigration & Customs Enforcement Agency.

In 2018’s midterm elections various sheriffs were elected throughout North Carolina who were tired of their counties being subservient to I.C.E.’s money and presence in the form of controversial 287g agreements between sheriffs and the federal agency. The most high-profile of these sheriffs was newly elected Sheriff Garry L. McFadden, a former homicide detective in Charlotte North Carolina who was possibly the first sheriff to take his county, Mecklenburg County, out of a 287g agreement. In response Sean Gallagher, the I.C.E. field office director for several southeastern states including the Carolinas and Georgia, told the people of Charlotte, the largest city in the county, that there would be more I.C.E. activity, which many people rightfully recognized as a threat of vindictive activity in the area as a response to voters deciding that the illusion of enhanced safety isn’t enough to justify the constant threat I.C.E. poses to immigrant communities and minority communities throughout North Carolina’s most populous city and one of the most densely populated counties in the state.

In February of this year those threats became a terrifying reality for immigrants and their families not just in Charlotte but in various other cities and towns throughout the state. Between raids in places like Sanford, family members being abducted outside of schools in the Raleigh-Durham area, and dozens of people being detained in Charlotte, it’s clear that I.C.E. was ready to rampage throughout the state. Some Democrats pushed back, such as the North Carolina Democratic Party’s Hispanic American Caucus, and leaders like Congresswoman Alma Adams, various mayors, and the North Carolina Democratic Party’s chairman, Wayne Goodwin.

The odd thing here is that the governor of North Carolina has remained silent — for weeks. He has commented on the need for immigration reform and the so-called “National Emergency at the southern border since these raids throughout North Carolina took place, but he hasn’t spoken out against I.C.E.’s actions in North Carolina specifically, despite being asking consistently by both Democrats and by individual Hispanic leaders and organizers in the state of North Carolina since the raids and increased activity began in earnest. He has ignored the questions posed to him by a multitude of leaders and by Democratic Hispanic activists and organizers.

This is disappointing since he undoubtedly considers himself a champion of immigrants’ rights, having created an advisory council of Hispanic Democrats for the purpose of having allies within the Hispanic communities of North Carolina. Of course if he valued action over superficial substance he could have quietly recognized the existence of much older and often far less celebrated (despite the remarkable work they do) activist groups including the Hispanic American Caucus, who’ve reached out to the governor consistently and actively even before these raids and before the creation of the advisory council.

Republicans in the state of North Carolina have been less quiet than the governor has. One response from Republican state legislators who’ve seen active Democratic disappointment with the state’s Democratic governor is House Bill 135, the Government Immigration Compliance Act. This dangerous bill seeks to subvert the will of North Carolina voters who had enough of immigrants and their families being afraid to interact with law enforcement in 287g counties, and will attempt to (among other things) turn the entire state into a 287g state. It will also undermine universities committed to being first and foremost places of education and safety, by making them less safe for students of color and other immigrants by weakening the ability of universities to protect student privacy. The bill’s current status is that it has been referred to a series of committees, first the Committee on State and Local Government.

Not only is North Carolina’s governor silent on these critical issues and key pieces of policy, so, too, are Democratic presidential candidates and other key national Democratic figures. It appears caring about immigrants is only topical if those immigrants are crossing over into the country and seeking asylum, not if they are already here, already have jobs, and are already active members of the community they lived in prior to their detention by I.C.E. or by I.C.E.’s allies. It’s a real shame that such a prominent Democrat and a whole crew of serious presidential candidates cannot speak up and speak out against these horrifying actions and terrifying responses to voters rejecting Republican talking-points and instead electing progressive sheriffs all over a major battleground state. Pragmatically and cynically speaking, it’s also a wasted opportunity for the North Carolina Democratic Party and for Democratic candidates for president to even pretend they actually care about Hispanic families.

Democrats at the state level and beyond need to do better than this. This is a serious crisis and the silence of major Democrats speaks volumes. This can’t become the new normal.


Featured image: Josh Denmark/Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Flickr

Luciano Joshua Gonzalez-Vega is a Puerto Rican secular humanist writing about politics, history, and human rights. He works as a social justice intern at the American Humanist Association.

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