GREENSBORO — Immigrant rights advocates say they have come up with another way of fighting back at what they see as aggressive tactics by federal immigration officers.
College students identifying themselves as Sam and Natalie on Monday recounted for the throng of TV cameras how they approached the man in plain clothes at 5 a.m. outside an apartment complex this weekend, where several SUVs with dark, tinted windows idled nearby.
The two students, members of the volunteer “ICE Watch” brigade, had been dispatched after a call to a tip-line set up by immigrant rights groups. The caller indicated that federal agents might be on the grounds looking to pick someone up. They approached the man with their phones recording, asking who he was and if they could see his badge. Caught off-guard, they said, the man walked away and got into one of the vehicles and left.
Maybe, they said, the attention thwarted someone being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers that day.
“It’s the least I can do. I have papers,” said Sam, of being in the country legally and being able to question the officers without fear of arrest. “I have that power.”
The press conference, which included family members of those who have been detained by ICE, clergy, immigrant advocates and City Councilwoman Michelle Kennedy, comes after officers detained at least 38 people in the Triad since Feb. 5. Some of those detained were described by immigrant advocates as the main sources of income for families with small children or being the primary caretaker for sickly parents.
The head of the federal agency’s operations covering North and South Carolina and Georgia said last week that as some of the state’s largest counties no longer have cooperation agreements with ICE, it forces officers to go out into communities and to businesses to look for people.
“This is not our preferred method of enforcement,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said after Monday’s press conference. “We have to go into the community and workplaces.”
Previously under the agreement with counties, local law enforcement agencies would check a federal database to see if there are inmates who are undocumented.
Andrew Willis Garces of the American Friends Service Committee and its grassroots Siembra NC, which operates an information line to help undocumented individuals and their supporters sort rumors from facts when it comes to ICE, said that ICE is taking the more aggressive approach to get back at law enforcement officials, while families are suffering.
The group and its supporters want Congress to work on a comprehensive immigration plan that would give those who have entered the United States illegally — but are now paying taxes and raising families — a path to citizenship.
Cox pointed out that even while officers may have a specific list of people to be arrested, they have the right to detain others during those searches.
According to Siembra NC’s numbers for last week, at least nine people have been detained in Greensboro; eight in Burlington; eight in Asheboro and Randleman; and nine in Winston-Salem.
Since then, nearly 450 calls have been made to the 24-hour hotline since Wednesday, with another 238 text messages and 667 Facebook messages sent to Siembra NC.
The brigade, which has 200 people signed up and covers Guilford, Forsyth and Alamance counties, hopes to continue disrupting the process.
“It is about whatever we can do,” Garces said.
The volunteers have heard that people are terrified to leave home and wondering what to do about their children going to school.
“I told my daughter the truth,” said one woman, who declined to give her name but says her husband has been detained, “and there is pain in her eyes.”
Last week, as word spread that plain-clothes immigration officers were in specific areas of the city, life came to a standstill for many people who would otherwise be at work.
Todd Warren, a public school teacher, spoke of the early days of the civil rights movement and other moments that history would later judge.
“We always like to think we are the people who would stand on the side of justice,” said Warren, who is also president of the Guilford County Association of Educators,
Siembra NC also has a GoFundMe page for the Triad Immigrant Family Support Fund of the Interactive Resource Center of Greensboro to help families find legal help and cover family expenses. The money raised is being matched by the Fund for Democratic Communities.