Federal immigration authorities have placed a detainment order on three young protesters, including a Winston-Salem man, arrested in Raleigh on Wednesday after they interrupted a state House special committee on immigration to declare themselves undocumented.
Video provided by the immigrant advocacy group N.C. Dream Team showed the three protesters standing up as the committee was in session. They shouted their opposition after Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, equated illegal immigration with drug and gun crime.
"My name is Uriel Alberto. I am undocumented, unafraid and unashamed! I refuse to be bullied and intimidated by this committee and choose to empower my community," he said, according to the video and Viridiana Martinez, co-founder of N.C. Dream Team.
Some audience members shouted expletives and "go home!" as the protesters were escorted out of the meeting, according to Martinez and video of the protest.
Alberto, 24, of Winston-Salem, Estephania Mijangos-Lopez, 20, of Sanford, and Cynthia Martinez, 21, of Broadway were charged with disorderly conduct, according to General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver. None has legal permission to be in the U.S., according to Martinez.
Alberto is a member of El Cambio, an immigrant advocacy group with chapters in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Yadkin and Surry counties. Because he and the other two protesters do not have legal permission to be in the U.S., they risk being deported.
They were booked at the Wake County Jail, which has officers authorized to check immigration status and turn over non-citizens to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Late Wednesday, Martinez said ICE had requested the detainment order, which is a standard tool the agency uses as it determines whether to move ahead with deportation proceedings.
Similarly, ICE placed detainers on Dream Team and El Cambio protesters who last September in Charlotte held a sit-in, but the agency opted not to initiate deportation proceedings, a move that is in line with ICE's standing guidelines to pursue the most serious criminal offenses.
Regardless of what happens, the protest was worth it, Martinez said.
"We can't pretend that our community is not being attacked. The goal for this is that everyone needs to understand that we can't be on the sidelines. … We're your neighbors. We're your classmates. We're your daughters' friends. We're North Carolinians. This is our home," said Martinez, 25, who has been in the U.S. since she was 7 but does not have legal permission to be in the country.
The Select Committee on the State's Role in Immigration Policy heard from representatives of the home building, construction, farming industries and other businesses that seek to hire cheap labor.
North Carolina Home Builders Association lobbyist Lisa Martin said her group supported Congress, not states, addressing immigration. While government should back training and retraining programs for the construction trades, "the homebuilding industry needs a strong and ready workforce," she said.
The testimony signaled the balancing act facing lawmakers who aim to deter illegal immigration.
Rep. Dale Folwell, R-Forsyth, a committee member and a supporter of legislation that he says would deter illegal immigration from affecting North Carolina, could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The protest in Raleigh was one of several staged by N.C. Dream Team, which supports the DREAM Act — proposed federal legislation that would give those who are not authorized to be in the U.S. a pathway to legal residency as long as they have not committed serious crimes and pursue a college education. The legislation has been stalled in Congress for years.
Opponents say the DREAM Act gives immigrants backdoor amnesty, and supporters say immigrants such as Martinez, her sister Alberto and Mijangos-Lopez are assets to society and should not be punished for decisions made by their parents.