Alamance’s Summer of Fear
Nothing is certain, the saying goes, except for death and taxes. And sometimes, in the twilight existence of those who live without documentation in the central North Carolina Piedmont, the two intertwine in strange concert. Such was the case in early July, Alamance County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Randleman learned, when he drove past Marxavi Angel Martinez’s house trailer at Cedar Creek Mobile Home Park and spotted three vehicles registered to the Graham Public Library employee. The deputy, who was cross-sworn as a task force officer of US Immigration and Law Enforcement, had already learned that Martinez’s Social Security number belonged to a dead person, and later through a search of county property records he was to learn that the woman paid taxes on four vehicles. “How she acquired the Social Security number, I really don’t know,” said Jose Alegria, a 28-year-old Wake Forest University researcher who emigrated with his parents from Mexico to North Carolina in 1994. “Somewhere, here in Alamance County, someone sells them the card. In Marxavi’s case, no one knew that the owner of the card had been dead for a number of years.” Randy Jones, the spokesman for the sheriff’s office said the cardholder died in the 1940s and lived “somewhere out west.” Alegria, a naturalized citizen, wears rectangular glasses, an eyebrow ring and sometimes an Obama sticker. His parents still live in Burlington, and he describes the city with a touch of melancholy as “home.” Beyond his paid job of conducting field research on HIV/ AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, he works as a volunteer organizer for an unnamed local coalition seeking to absorb some of the shock of the county’s aggressive campaign to make life uncomfortable for the undocumented residents who live in the community’s legal shadows. “It’s just me and my kitty cats late at night,” he said. “We have a lot of time to spare.” Alegria tried to help Martinez, a graduate of Cummings High School with above-average marks, get into college. That didn’t work out because she was undocumented. Martinez came with her parents on travel visas as a 3 year-old in the late 1980s. The visas expired, and the family became illegal. Despite her inability to continue her education, she landed a job at the Graham Public Library in 2006 with the help of a false Social Security number. That event turned out to be both the source of her trouble and the means by which she made her contribution to society.
She went to work part-time, earning $13,800 a year. The county government that employed her withheld federal and state taxes for Social Security and Medicare — programs whose benefits she likely will not enjoy. The tip about Martinez’s use of a fraudulent Social Security number on her I-9 employment form came to Sheriff Terry Johnson. “I received information from a confidential and a very reliable source that a county employee had used the Social Security card of another person to gain employment,” Johnson said. “I was eating supper at a local restaurant, and an individual came up to me and said, ‘I understand there is an investigation going on. You should know that there is an individual at the county who is using a false Social Security number.’ He didn’t give her name.” The air in Alamance County has been thick with allegations of illegals breaking the rules, and taking jobs and benefits from good, law-abiding citizens. “The theory is that the media reports about the health department investigation brought the tipster forward,” Jones said. “We receive tips all the time because of things that come out in the media.” By the time Martinez was arrested at the library a State Bureau of Investigation probe into maternal health services provided to undocumented women by the county health department was in full swing. The county’s partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to screen pre-trial detainees for immigration violations and set them on a path for deportation was well into its second year. Dark suspicions first raised in 2004 about illegals registering to vote in the course of receiving public assistance had been resurrected in a new presidential election year. The health department’s medical director had fought a pitched battle with the help of the Institute of Government in Chapel Hill to avoid turning over client names. That effort was short-circuited when the board’s chair and a Republican county commissioner seeking reelection brought concerns to the county manager, who in turn enlisted the Republican sheriff to request a state criminal investigation. Jones said only one employee of the sheriff’s office, Major Tim Britt, had access to the state investigation of the health department and that he did not disclose any patient medical records. Martinez’s supporters remain skeptical. “She did receive maternal health care from the health department,” Alegria said. “That could be another thing that started the whole investigation. The health department records said that she was a Mexican citizen, while the library application said that she was a US citizen.” Alamance County residents who have rallied around Martinez contend that even the appearance of confidential patient information being leaked from the health department could have the effect of discouraging undocumented residents from seeking prenatal care to deliver healthy babies or treatment for infectious diseases and other conditions that pose a public health risk. The event immediately preceding Alamance County’s summer of anti-immigrant hysteria was prompted by a complaint from a victim of identity theft, not by the apprehension of criminal aliens identified through the 287(g) program or through evidence of illegals taking advantage of public health services to which they were not entitled. The sheriff’s office received a call on May 2 from Veronica Arias, a resident of Cameron County, Texas on the Mexican border, who complained that her identity had been stolen. The perpetrator, Maria Sanchez, was later among those whose medical records were subpoenaed by the State Bureau of Investigation during its health department probe. State investigators learned that the woman received a note from healthdepartment staff in Arias’ name indicating to her employer that she wasready to go back to work after giving birth to her child. Thesheriff’s office would determine that Sanchez used Arias’ SocialSecurity number and name to obtain employment at Honda Power Equipment,a Japanese-owned manufacturing company in Swepsonville. Sanchezwas charged with identity theft by the sheriff’s office on May 6 andtransferred into the custody of ICE for deportation a month later. Threedays after Sanchez’s arrest, Dr. Shapley-Quinn, medical director forthe health department, met with Assistant County Attorney ClydeAlbright to discuss the legal implications of county health providersusing aliases in work notes written to employers on behalf of clients. Itwas at the end of the workweek, and Albright recalls that Shapley-Quinninsisted on meeting first thing in the morning so she could see himbefore he left for court at 8:30 a.m. Shapley-Quinn thanked Albright inan electronic message later that day. “I’m looking forward to a clearpolicy on how we should best deal with the complexities of people usingmultiple names,” she wrote. “That will really help us all.” “You arewelcome,” Albright replied. “I think we will come up with a solution.”
Anaudience that included many sympathetic to undocumented residentspacked an Alamance County courtroom on Aug. 18 to hear a presentationconcerning a State Bureau of Investigation probe of the county healthdepartment’s use of aliases in work notes written for women receivingmaternal health services.
Itwould be another month before Shapley- Quinn heard from Albright again,and on May 18 the medical director turned to Jill D. Moore, a professorat the Institute of Government at UNC- Chapel Hill. “Can you give usguidance on, from a legal perspective, if we put ourselves at risk bywriting work notes for a patient in a name other than what they have ontheir [health department chart]?” Shapley-Quinn asked. “E.g. a patientcomes in at 4 weeks postpartum and wants to return to work. Heremployer needs a note to let her return to work. Patient requests weput down a different name than on our chart. Can we do it?”Shapley-Quinn added that administrators had discussed having healthdepartment employees write work notes, but allowing the patients towrite their own names on the forms. Moore advised that usingonly a patient’s work name was risky, but not necessarily a violationof the law. The health department would be on more solid ground, shesaid, if instead it used only the patient’s employee ID number, onlythe patient’s “real” name, or both the name listed on medical chartsand the patient’s alias. By then, Keith Whited, a local lawyerwho chairs the board of health, was on Shapley- Quinn’s case to turnover medical records disclosing clients’ identities. “If there is a note, list, book, writing, or other data collection where one of
ouremployees is gathering information that identifies our patients by morethan one name or identification device (whether called a black book ornot), then I would like a copy,” Whited wrote in a May 23 message. Shapley-Quinntold Whited she did not see any language in the federal medical privacylaw known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act,or HIPAA, allowing the health department to release patient medicalinformation to a board member. Whited remained insistent. “Iam still waiting to see the particular record that we discussed lastweek,” he wrote to Kathy Brooks, the department’s HIPAA privacyofficer, on June 3. “That is, the log or record that apparently is notkept in the individual patient’s medical chart, which aligns aliasnames with real names.” The next day Shapley-Quinn turnedagain to the assistant county attorney for help. “Hello Clyde,” shewrote. “I’m wondering if you can help resolve a question aboutreleasing information.
Thechair of our board of health (Mr. Keith Whited) is asking for protectedhealth information to be released to him on one of our clients.According to what I have learned from the public health attorney at theInstitute of Government, that information cannot be released to himunder our agency HIPPA guidelines (because board members are not listedas covered agents in our ACHD HIPPA policy.)” Albright’s response wasencouraging. “Dear Dr., I have prepared a data use agreementbased on these HIPPA regulations,” he said. “I’ll have it completedsoon.” “Thanks so much!” Shapley-Quinn said. “You are welcome!”Albright wrote back. “This is fun stuff!” Albright told YES! Weekly heprovided no legal advice to Shapley-Quinn after their initial meetingin early May. Major Britt of the sheriff’s office would later disclosethat the State Bureau of Investigation initiated its probe of thehealth department at the request of Sheriff Johnson after Whited andCommissioner William Lashley brought concerns to Albright’s boss, DavidSmith, who serves as the county’s manager, attorney and clerk. Theinvestigation concerned whether Shapley-Quinn and nurse Karen Saxerknowingly and willingly falsified patient medical records. “Onmore than one occasion nurse Karen Saxer at the direction of Dr.Shapley-Quinn prepared or made health related employer work notes forpatients under alias names,” Britt would later tell countycommissioners, “knowing that the names on the documents were in factnot the birth name or the legal name of the patient.” The health department investigation and two high-profile
arrestswould bring unwelcome attention to one of Johnson’s signatureinitiatives, the 287(g) partnership between the county, its sheriff’soffice and the US Immigration Customs and Enforcement agency, or ICE. Amemorandum of agreement finalized in January 2007 gives the sheriff’soffice the authority to interrogate any person believed to not be acitizen about her right to remain in the United States, and to initiatedeportation proceedings. “We were seeing a disproportionatenumber of Hispanics arrested on state charges and as repeat offenders,”Johnson said in a recent interview at the sheriff’s office. “Our beliefis that we were dealing with some recidivists. We were findingsome people who were deportable.” He added that after 90 days thecounty jail’s immigration detention population dropped from 100 to 120down to around 30 per day. The sheriff said crime in Alamance Countydramatically declined in 2007, noting that while he has no proof that287(g) caused the drop the department made no other major changes thatwould account for the change. The sheriff’s office interviewed52 inmates about their immigration status last month. Thirty-one wereprocessed for deportation. Of those, only two had been arrested forfelonies. Judging by their charges few of them might be classified asdangerous criminals: Five were arrested for driving while intoxicated,one for drugs, two for sex crimes, two for assault, three for fraud and13 for traffic offenses. “There’s no big difference,” saidJones, the public information officer. “It’s pretty well representativeof what you see in the overall community.” Alegria said theethnicity of those detained and processed for removal under 287(g) andthe fact that the vast majority of them were picked up for misdemeanorsis proof that the program is profiling Hispanics. Johnsonadamantly denied that his sheriff’s office engages in ethnic profiling.He cited a study requested by Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Orange) comparingAlamance County with the state as a whole by the number of Hispanicsarrested. The sheriff said the statistics surprised Tony Queen, whoconducted the study. “He was totally amazed that we weren’tarresting as many illegals as the other counties,” Johnson said. Jonesinterjected: “I would say,
‘Hispanics,’ Sheriff, not ‘illegals.’” Laterduring an interview the public information officer displayed a similarconfusion, raising the question of whether deputies patrolling theInterstate 85 and the county’s highways differentiate between Hispanicsand undocumented residents. “The number of Hispanics arrestedat any given time is eight percent,” Jones said. “We’ve been told thatthe number of illegal immigrants in the county is ten percent. So thenumbers are already out of whack.” Days before the healthdepartment investigation began, residents got a vivid picture of the287(g) at work, when Deputy M. Herron stopped 26-year-old Maria ChaviraVentura on Interstate 85 near Mebane at 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday morningas she was traveling with her two children and an adult companion atthe start of a trip to see her husband in New Jersey. Her citationindicates she was traveling 5 mph over the speed limit. Thedeputy arrested her after running her tag and determining that itbelonged to another vehicle. That the children were left unattended inthe car is not in dispute, but accounts vary as to why that happened.The adult passenger reportedly fled after Ventura was taken to jail.“The deputy said that Maria said through her child that it would bebest for the children to stay
withthe other adult,” Alegria said. “The two children stayed thereovernight until the father came down from New Jersey to see about thekids the next morning.” Ventura has been turned over to immigrationauthorities and faces deportation. The incident would putSheriff Johnson on the defensive at a pair of county commissionmeetings in August. “I did go through your handbook, your policies andprocedures book,” Democratic Commissioner Ann Vaughan told the sheriffat a commission meeting held in court chambers with capacity attendanceon Aug. 18. “I could not find anything about leaving anyone is avehicle while someone is being taken in. I saw where the deputy has tosecure the vehicle, secure the contents… make sure everyone is safe,but it doesn’t talk about people.” Sheriff Johnson complainedthat people intent on disrupting the 287(g) program had deliberatelyspread misinformation about the incident. He said the sheriff’soffice’s hands were tied legally, contending, “Unless there’s neglectand abuse, I can’t take that child.” “But if you leave thechild, isn’t that abuse and neglect?” Vaughan asked. “What’s gonnahappen?” Johnson shot back. “I’m gonna drag them children into my car.What are the newspapers going to say?” First- and second-generationimmigrants at the county commission meeting voiced raw displeasure atthe arrests and probes. Joining them were clergy members and facultyfrom Elon University. One of the immigrants was Heiderose Kober, wholives across the Orange County line in Efland and came to NorthCarolina from Germany in 1973. “I did not graduate from a NorthCarolina high school like that young woman did,” she said in referenceto Martinez, the library employee arrested in July. “I did not grow upsaying the Pledge of Allegiance like that young woman did. Thedifference is I am white, and I am coming from a preferred country. “Everywave of immigration has been met with the same myths: ‘They bringdiseases; they take our jobs; they are all criminals,’” she continued.“It is dangerous for them here, but the danger to our democracy, thedanger to our
freedom,the danger to our sense of being a good human being is far greater. Iwant to look in the mirror and see a good person. There is a saying,‘Many laws but little justice,’ that applies here. Our laws must honorour heritage as a nation of immigrants and our shared humanity.” MarilynTyler remembers Martinez as a 12-year-old girl coming to the AlamanceCounty Library in Burlington, where Tyler went to work in the mid-1990safter retiring as a teacher. That Martinez would later land almost thesame job left an impression. Tyler has had spirited discussions withCommissioner Tim Sutton, an ardent proponent of rooting out immigrationfraud, and she concedes one point to him. She recalled Sutton tellingher: “You’re only making a big deal about this because she worked atthe library. What if she worked at McDonalds?” “I and others who haveraised a commotion about this, we’re not going to let it go,” Tylersaid. “When it was people who were nameless and faceless, we didn’t sayanything. This woman wasn’t. She waited on people; she hadfriends and family that we knew. I’m sorry it took this to happen whenapparently it’s been going on for years.” Martinez’s husbandand her parents also face deportation. Alegria said the former libraryemployee is still waiting to learn from ICE when her hearing will takeplace. Martinez’s one hope for leniency is the fact that her child is acitizen by virtue of being born on US soil. “It’s been my experiencethat the immigration judge may say, ‘You have two options: Take thechild with you, or leave it behind with someone else.’” Alegria said.“What parent in her right mind is going to leave a child behind?’”While Martinez, Sanchez and other women who received maternal healthservices through the health department were sent on a path todeportation because of their fraudulent use of Social Security numbers,state investigators could find nothing wrong with county employeesproviding services to them without verifying their legal residency. Britttold the county commissioners on Aug. 18 that federal prosecutors haddeclined to try the two health department employees, adding that onlyhours earlier Alamance County District Attorney Rob Johnson had taken a pass also. Britt noted that none offive clients identified as “persons of interest” received federalMedicaid benefits in violation of the law because the cost of theircare was absorbed by the county’s maternal health budget line. TheState Bureau of Investigation also addressed the potential for voterfraud by undocumented immigrants who might become registered to vote inthe process of receiving public assistance. Cathy Holland,director of elections, was present to answer the commissioners’question. As she noted, it’s a felony for a non-citizen to attempt toregister to vote. “Mr. Britt and I had a conversation with the generalcounsel at the State Board of Elections, and it’s been their, I guess,position, if you will, that a person who is not in the country legally,is trying to fly under the radar,” she said. “They’re not going to dothings to present themselves in a manner that would bet themselvescaught. So I don’t think, in our personal opinions in the electionfield, that that is an issue.” Sheriff Johnson made anemotional address to the commissioners. “Are we providing services andassistance to all the Alamance County citizens in need?” he asked. “Orare those persons taking away from elderly, taxpaying citizens and ourneedy children? …. Think of the enhanced services that could be helpedwith the taxpayers’ dollars that are being diverted and consumed in theillegal population.” He did not acknowledge that undocumentedimmigrants like Martinez and Sanchez working in the county under falseSocial Security numbers also paid taxes. And he expressed defiance tothose who characterize his enforcement practices as unnecessary andinhumane. “What has happened to our country, our state and ourcounty when a government employee cannot report a felony crime?” heasked of those who question why he could not have overlooked Martinez’soffense. “This is absurd and goes against the very moral fiber that ourcountry was founded upon, the nation of laws. And it is a great nation.Yet some in our government wants me and other officials here in ournation to turn our back on violations of the law. I’m gonna tell yousomething: I will not do it, I have not done it, and I’m not gonna doit. If you want to come here illegally and live in this country, do notviolate any laws.” The following night, the board of health — ChairmanWhited and Commissioner Lashley included — met with health departmentstaff at the county building on Highway 87 north of the shutteredWestern Electric plant on the outskirts of Graham. Cattycorner to thecounty building sets Taqueria Karla, a white brick building with bluetrim, a neon “open” sign and a prominent menu posted on the outsidewall. “When I came here thirty years ago, this was a very stablecommunity — I grew up in the Midwest — a stable community that had thesame people with the same stores,” said Tyler, the former teacher andlibrarian. “They think this is the way things should be. Then in thenineties Hispanics started coming and putting up signs in Spanish
onthe stores. I see it in my neighborhood. I find it interesting. Somepeople find it frightening. I think a couple of the commissioners spenttheir whole life here. They don’t like change. Change hurts. I suspectthey wouldn’t like any change. Latinos are just one visible evidence ofchange.” A health department administrator distributed a draft“service eligibility policy” to the board members. It states that “allforms of correspondence completed on behalf of the client (i.e. worknotes, disability forms, etc.) will include both the name under whichthey are registered and the alias name.” The Board members decided toreview it and consider it for approval at their next full meeting inOctober. Dennis Harrington,the deputy state public health director, was on hand to support hisfriend, Health Director Barry Bass. Harrington reminded the boardmembers of the department’s mandate. “Our patient in the public health department is the community,” he says.
“Yousee individual clients in clinics. Ultimately, the community is thepatient of the health department. Whether it’s your son, your daughter,nephew, niece, whoever, they all go to Wal-Mart, they all go to school.Whatever clinical service, if the individual presents himself and it’sBarry Bass, or Barry Bass presents himself as Dennis Harrington — he’sgot my ID, you know — it doesn’t really matter. If I need animmunization, if I need treatment for an STD, if I need a prenatalvisit, if I need family planning, it really doesn’t matter what you areor who you call yourself.” “I ask you to talk to yourneighbors and friends and people at church,” he continued. “If theyfeel strongly about your health department not serving a certain group,just go back to them and say, ‘That group, whoever they are, they’re inour community. If they’re in our community, they’re having contact withour children, our grandchildren. Or a pregnant woman, God forbid, thatgot exposed to measles.’” Then he told them they ignore their mandate at the peril of losing federal and state funding.
“Andthat big fat document I put together and send out to y’all every yearthat says, ‘Here’s your consolidated agreement,’ the first thirty pagesis all the federal requirements from about sixty nine grant sourcesthat we receive,” he said. “And it condenses everything into onedocument, so you don’t have to sign it so many times you get carpaltunnel syndrome. You sign the consolidated agreement so you say, ‘If Itake these federal and state funds I agree to comply with therequirements.’” Then he quipped, “I can’t tell you how proud Iam that we can send you forty eight thousand more dollars. I donekilled myself lobbying for that money.” Chairman Keith Whitedwas ready to let go. “In this case we can prove that there is nocriminal conduct because the highest legal authority in the county hassaid there is no criminal conduct,” he said. “In that regard we havefinished what we started. We can rest assured that no otheragency can complain that we have somehow fallen short. If there’sanything else out there I’d like to see it too, but I suspect it’s afairly complete investigation.”
Not William Lashley, the Republican commissioner seeking reelection. Hecalled the disposition of the SBI investigation a “cover-up,” laterciting an unnamed SBI investigator as his source for informationindicating that health department employees switched billing forservices to undocumented residents from federal Medicaid funding tolocal funding streams. “There are e-mails between Dr. Shapley-Quinn and the nurses saying, ‘This doesn’t qualify for Medicaid, so weshould charge it to local funds,’” he said after the meeting. “Itrelays to me that there’s a problem with the people doing things thatshould be prosecuted . They elected to cover it up.” The NC JusticeDepartment, which oversees the State Bureau of Investigation, disputesLashley’s assertion that a state investigator shared information withthe commissioner. “I checked with the SBI agents who wereinvolved in this investigation and specifically thespecial-agent-in-charge,” said Jennifer Canada, a spokeswoman for the department, “and none of the agentssaid they had spoken with this particular county commissioner.” RandyJones, the public information officer for the sheriff’s office, saidBritt, the only person in his agency with access to the State Bureau ofInvestigation information, told him he had no conversations or contactwith Lashley. The county commissioner did not return multiple callsseeking clarification. As for the changes wrought on AlamanceCounty by immigration — the browning of the county, theSpanish-language signs, the profusion of Latin food options — thecommissioner was the first to say that he has nothing againstHispanics. Before retiring from Burlington Engineering hetraveled around the world setting up textile plants. Some of hisfondest memories come from his visit to the state of Quer’taro, northof Mexico City. “There are no better people on the earth,” he said. “The best people I’ve ever worked with are in Mexico. They accept you and treat you like family.”
To comment on this story, e-mail Jordan Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.