“It was a shocker.”
That’s what Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said on WCHL last week after agents with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detained several Orange County residents. “We don’t get advanced notice; we don’t know why they’re here…we do not support this; we do not participate in this.”
Hemminger said there are still many unanswered questions.
“We’re not sure what prompted ICE to come here,” Hemminger said. “We don’t send information [to ICE]; we don’t know if they’re looking for someone, in particular.
“They just established that they have the right to do this.”
Authorities across Orange County have a history of not prioritizing immigration status during law enforcement, including supporting the Faith ID initiative. The effort provides residents – undocumented and documented – with identification cards that are accepted by local police. A Faith ID drive and Know Your Rights seminar was organized by the community advocacy group El Centro Hispano and held in Carrboro on Saturday.
Community Engagement and Advocacy manager at El Centro Eliazar Posada said that the message at these events is simple.
“Everyone has rights, regardless of their status,” Posada said.
Posada said that getting local law enforcement in contact with undocumented residents allows for an opportunity to answers community concerns.
“With a statement and the presence there,” Posada said, “we believe that folks will be reassured that the local law enforcement and elected officials are there to serve them and not to serve a political agenda on the federal level.”
Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said events like last week’s arrests send shockwaves through the community and erode at work done by local law enforcement to build trust with residents.
“Our position remains unchanged in our community regarding local law enforcement’s role in immigration matters,” Blue said. “But, we recognize when there’s an unexpected presence like happened this week, people are understandably concerned.”
Blue said that he had been encouraged by how many residents called the police department asking for information, which he said proved that the department had already built relationships with the community members.
“I do think that that consistency of message and backing it up with presence and being available to ask questions and to understand when that suspicion may surface has helped us make those relationships really strong.”
Overall, Blue said that there would be no change in the mindset of Chapel Hill Police.
“The ‘Guardians of the Hill’ serve everybody the same way,” the police chief said. “That has not changed and will not change.”
El Centro, meanwhile, has established a GoFundMe campaign hoping to raise $30,000 to cover the legal fees of those who had been detained.