Commission stands against 287(g)

by Jordan Green

Relations Commission has unanimously approved a resolution opposing the use of 287(g), a federal program that gives local officers the power to enforce immigration law, by any local government agency for any purpose other than deporting the most serious and dangerous criminals. Commissioner Jose Villalba said the resolution was modeled after ones approved in Orange and Chatham counties and in Siler City. The human relations commission also voted to recommend that the Greensboro City Council approve a similar resolution. Human Relations Director Anthony Wade said the request has not yet been added to the council’s agenda. Commissioner Jose Villalba used a Spanish word, confianza, which roughly translates as “trust,” to highlight the need to take a stand against local law enforcement programs such as 287(g) in which arrests for traffic violations or failure to produce identification can lead to deportation. “I can speak as a Latino and that confianza is almost impossible to build up, and once it’s built up it can come crumbling down in a second,” he said. “To go through the process this community has gone through the last few years to establish a level of confianza in the Latino community, whether it’s with the children or with the adults, to see that crumbling down is really a travesty.” The resolution reads, “The Greensboro Human Relations Commission stands in strong opposition to any local government agency contracting with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for the purpose of enforcing federal immigration laws outside of its intended top priority, ‘Level 1 — individuals who have been convicted of major drug offenses and violent offenses, such as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and kidnapping.’” Enforcement of federal immigration laws against Level 1 offenders has actually been identified by ICE as a priority specifically for Secure Communities, a program similar to 287(g). About 30 people attended the commission meeting to show support for the resolution, and no one spoke in opposition. “There are children going to bed tonight in total fear — fear that their parents are going to be torn away from them, fear of what will happen down the road, fear that they will not be able to go to school,” said the Rev. Julie Peeples, senior pastor at Congregational United Church of Christ. “There are adult men and women, hard-working, taxpaying men and women in this community who are becoming increasingly fearful of going to the grocery store. They’re in a fear of being in a car, [getting] pulled over, profiled, targeted. “And I think this kind of fear is unconscionable in a community such as ours,” she continued. “It’s happening right under our noses. The vast majority of people have no clue this is happening. There are raids going on. There are checkpoints going on in various targeted communities, pulling only people who look Hispanic…. I want you to understand that more people of faith are beginning to stand up and say, ‘No, not in our community.’” Unsubstantiated allegations that local law enforcement officers in Greensboro are targeting Latinos in enforcement actions have raced through the immigrant advocacy community through mass e-mails and an organizational newsletter, and the human relations commission included a supporting clause echoing that assertion. The resolution cites a recent report coauthored by the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Foundation and the Immigration & Human Rights Policy Clinic at UNC-Chapel Hill, which states, “Instead of focusing on those people who commit the violent crimes as stated by ICE, local law enforcement officers seem to be targeting drivers of a particular race or national origin by stopping them for traffic violations.” In one alleged incident, the wife of a human relations commissioner reported to the city’s human relations department that she witnessed a checkpoint in which only Latinos were being stopped. Human Relations Administrator Yamile Walker said that the commissioners’ wife is white, and was not herself stopped. Because the woman did not file a formal complaint, the department does not have the authority to investigate the report. In aseparate alleged incident that also remains unsubstantiated because theperson would not file a complaint with the department or speak on therecord, Walker said a Latina woman reported that she was required toshow her identification to a Greensboro police officer at a Click Itand Ticket checkpoint, but was not cited despite the fact that she wasnot wearing a seatbelt. Walker said the implication of the allegationis that law enforcement officers were more interested in identifyingdeportable persons than encouraging seatbelt use. Greensboro policeChief Tim Bellamy said last week that it is possible that one of hisofficers was selectively stopping Latinos at a checkpoint, but notedthat the checkpoints are also staffed by UNCG police officers andGuilford County sheriffs deputies. He confirmed that the GreensboroPolice Department participated in a “Click It or Ticket” checkpoint atthe on Aycock Street near the Market Street overpass last month, butcity officials confirmed that the checkpoint was under the command ofUNCG police.

Commissioner Jose Villalba and Commissioner Marikay Abuzuaiter, who plans to run for city council this year, brought the resolution to the Greensboro Human Relations Commission. The human relations commission is asking the city council to also consider a resolution opposing 287(g) (photo by Jordan Green)

Bellamy said selective enforcement against Latinos would have beeninappropriate. “You have to have a pattern,” he said. “You have toeither stop every car or you have to stop every two cars, every threecars, every four cars and so on. I have been at some of those thingswhere they wave some cars through, especially if traffic gets backedup.” He said his officers have received training on how to avoidengaging in racial profiling, but expressed uncertainty about theregularity of the program. “I would have no idea,” he said,when asked to say when the latest training occurred. “I think profiling[training] is a mandatory thing we do every year. We either getprofiling or sensitivity training every year.” Commissioner MarikayAbuzuaiter acknowledged that the commission does not have evidence ofracial profiling against Latinos. “The stories we are hearingconstitute very powerful anecdotal evidence, which needs to becorroborated,” Commissioner Michael Roberto said. “Which means we needto do our work.” He implored audience members to bring allegations ofunfair treatment and abuses of authority to the human relationsdepartment for investigation. “I would just like to emphasizeto our fellow citizens to really document these specific allegations asmuch as we possibly can,” Roberto said. “The burden here is tosubstantiate these claims so we can say in the future, ‘There is risingevidence,’ as opposed to, ‘It seems.’ That’s your charge. We can’t actunless we have evidence.” The resolution passed by the humanrelations commission is aimed at Sheriff BJ Barnes, who had pledged tomove forward with efforts to implement the 287(g), in defiance of acampaign to delay or halt the program altogether. Barnes hassaid that the reason for implementing 287(g) is to improve his agency’sspeed and efficiency in processing detainees flagged as lacking valididentification. The 297(g) program would allow the sheriff’s office tohave its own machine to check fingerprints in a national HomelandSecurity database, and currently all fingerprints have to be submittedto ICE for review in a process that can take days. Barnes has said thathe has no choice but to check the immigration status of any personstopped by one of his deputies who cannot identify themselves byproducing valid identification, even though North Carolina law onlyrequires jail administrators to check the immigration status ofdetainees who have been convicted of felonies or who are charged withdriving while intoxicated. “It seems that the sheriff is notaccountable to the community until it comes to voting time,” CommissionChair Maxine Bakeman said. “So we’re trying to figure out what we cando to stop or slow down the process of 287(g).” The city ofGreensboro holds no authority over the sheriff, who is elected by thevoters of Guilford County, but the 287(g) program and other initiativesthat check the immigration status of detainees has certain implicationsfor Greensboro because all people arrested in the city are processedthrough the Guilford County Jail, which is administered by the sheriff. “I’ve been working with the Hispanic community here inGreensboro for the past 12 years, and can tell you that we’ve reallyworked hard to create trust, not just us, but with the communities welive in,” said Deborah Kelly, who is employed with Moses Cone HealthSystem’s Safe Guilford program. “And it’s really hard to back that upnowadays. It’s really hard [to say to the] person who is sufferingdomestic abuse: ‘Don’t worry about calling the police. Do what you’vegot to do.’ Because I can’t honestly tell her what the consequences aregoing to be.”