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Protesters arrested during demonstration

by Keith Barber

PRO-IMMIGRANT GROUP, SUPPORTERS OF SHERIFF TERRY JOHNSON FACE OFF

Singing verses of the song, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” approximately 75 demonstrators marched along Maple Street in Graham on the afternoon of April 8, moving toward the Alamance County Detention Center. Led by Gail Phares of the Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace, the activists came within several feet of a counter-protest led by supporters of Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson and his immigration enforcement policies. Graham police officers directed the Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace demonstrators, who came to Graham to voice their opposition to the Alamance Sheriff’s Office contracting with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house illegal aliens arrested in the cooperative 287(g) program, to a far corner of the detention center parking lot to hold their rally. On the opposite side of the jail, an equal number of demonstrators held signs that read, “I support my sheriff,” and “Stop drugs and crime, 287(g).” Phares explained to the marchers why they came to the Alamance County jail to protest. “Hundreds of our brothers and sisters are being hauled off for minor traffic violations and sent back to Mexico,” Phares said. “We walk this Holy Week for immigration rights. We walk for worker justice and we walk for a change in our trade policies. We hope to raise awareness about the injustices that migrants face after crossing the border and coming to North Carolina. In the past few months, North Carolina has seen a rise in immigration raids, deportations and anti-immigration ordinances. We hope to put an end to the fear and uncertainty that many people feel toward migrants that are coming to the United States to escape poverty.” Alamance County is one of eight sheriffs’ offices in the state that contracts with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which allows the federal agency to give immigration enforcement authority to local police. Johnson has come under fire recently for underreporting the number of Hispanic drivers arrested by his agency between 2004 and 2008. Johnson had reported 494 Hispanic drivers were stopped during the four-year period during a February meeting of the Alamance County Commissioners. Elon University political science professor Laura Roselle’s independent research revealed the actual number to be 1,344 Hispanic drivers stopped in the county, according to the university’s website. Roselle’s findings raise the specter of racial profiling by Alamance County Sheriff’s deputies, said pilgrimage demonstrator Ileana Dubuster. She commented on the significance of the march falling on the beginning of Passover, a celebration of the liberation of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt. “Passover reminds us that suffering, bondage and discrimination are alive and well in America,” Dubuster said. “None of us are free if the Alamance County Sheriff feels justified in abandoning little children by the side of the road because their mama didn’t have the right papers. None of us are free if deputies are empowered to determine the fate of an immigrant and now must return to a land that she doesn’t even know. None of us are free if immigrant communities are the target of police harassment.” Dubuster alluded to an incident involving 26-year-old Maria Chavira Ventura, who was stopped by Alamance County Deputy M. Herron on Interstate 85 near Mebane on a Saturday morning last year. Ventura was traveling with her two children and an adult companion at the start of a trip to see her husband in New Jersey. Her citation indicates she was traveling 5 mph over the speed limit. The deputy arrested her after running her tag and determining that it belonged to another vehicle. That the children were left unattended in the car is not in dispute, but accounts vary as to why that happened. The adult passenger reportedly fled after Ventura was taken to jail. Ventura was turned over to immigration authorities for deportation. Dubuster cited a number of other abuses of power by the Alamance County Sheriff’s office and issued a call to action to her fellow demonstators. “We are told they are committing these

horrendous acts in ourname for our own safety and protection, and I want to say, ‘Not in myname,’” Dubuster said. “We can join these struggles and we can face thepharaohs and the sheriffs and strip them of their power. Yes we can!”Moments later, in a symbolic gesture, protestor Patrick O’Neill dressedas an ICE agent arrested Audrey Schwankl, who was wearing a LadyLiberty costume. “Liberty has been arrested in AlamanceCounty!” O’Neill exclaimed. O’Neill, Schwankl and five other protestorssat at the entrance to the detention center after two Graham policeofficers blocked them from entering the facility. Capt. SteveMcGilvray of the Graham police asked the protesters to disperse. “If itis your intention to stay here, you’re impeding ingress and egress tothis building,” McGilvray warned. “We stand in solidarity withthe immigrants being held here. Many innocent people have walkedthrough these doors,” Schwankl responded. McGilvray askedPhares to intervene, but the protesters held their ground. Minuteslater, police officers arrested the seven demonstrators. They werelater released on bond Wednesday evening. Their court date is set forMay 14. Schwankl and her husband, Jimmy, who also participated in theprotest march, are from Chatham County. Jimmy Schwankl praised theJanuary decision of the Chatham County Commissioners to pass aresolution in strong opposition to the county’s participation in the287(g) program. William Gheen of the Americans for LegalImmigration Political Action Committee helped organize thecounterprotest to the Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace on the ElmStreet side of the Alamance County jail on April 8. He said the actionof the Chatham County Commissioners is out of sync with the views ofthe majority of North Carolinians regarding immigration policies. “Theyare attempting to create the state’s first and only sanctuary countyand there are a lot of people organizing on the ground against ChathamCounty,” Gheen said. “Usually when you get a resolution or state lawslip through that benefits illegal aliens and their supporters, it’susually in the absence of public knowledge, and that’s exactly whathappened in Chatham.” 

Gheensaid the assertion by opposition groups that 287(g) leads to racialprofiling is simply untrue. “Profiling is just another way for illegalaliens to call someone a racist and KKK. And to be honest with you,it’s bullshit,” he said. “The North Carolina authorities and theAmerican authorities are the most racially sensitive police on theplanet. You will not find another country where police are moresensitive about fairness and racial equality.” Phares said herstrong belief that our state and nation needs immigration reform wasbolstered by a recent trip to Mexico. Due in large part to the passageof the North American Free Trade Agreement 15 years ago, Phares saidtwo to three million Mexican corn farmers are bankrupt and 40 percentof small businesses in Mexico have fallen by the wayside. She saidblaming immigrants for the ills of our society is not the solution. “Peopleare coming because their children are hungry as you and I would come ifour children were hungry,” she said. “And we urge people in our countryto focus on the law — we need to change our immigration laws. We needto change our trade laws. Do not focus on the immigrants. They aresimply coming to feed their children. They are good people. We need them; they are our future.”

The23 rd annual pilgrimage began in Charlotte on April 5 and concluded inRaleigh April 10. On April 7, protestors marched to Reynolds Americanheadquarters in Winston-Salem to deliver a letter to Reynolds CEO SusanIvey regarding the group’s concern about working conditions for 30,000migrant laborers employed by company. Alexandria Jones, one ofthe event organizers, said the letter requested Reynolds managementmeet with the Farm Labor Organizing Committee. When Reynoldsrepresentatives refused to accept the letter, Jones said the marchersproceeded to the United Way of Forsyth County to drop off the letterbut had to leave it with a security guard. Jones said the group isplanning an event to coincide with the Reynolds American’s annualshareholder meeting on May 6 to raise awareness of working conditionsfor migrant laborers.

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