“You know, Jock, you just do not expect to read the morning newspaper and have it sound like Anne Frank’s Diary.” I shook my head. Jock looked at me over the rim of his coffee cup. We handle things that upset us differently. He tries to make a bad joke and find a way to laugh when he can. But the fear of being separated forcibly from his children is something he could not, would not, ever joke about.
The Washington Post reported on July 13, 2019: “The national restaurant industry is bracing for a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation that could round up hundreds of migrant families that have received deportation orders.”
“Too many parts in common with the early lines in the diary about Margot getting her transportation/deportation orders.” I shook my head.
Like many people who are baffled, angry and frightened by current events, we find ourselves torn between two streams: trying to keep daily life going and trying to figure out how to do something, anything, toward a humane solution to our southern border’s horrifying situation unfolding before our eyes.
A little over 200 people gathered about a quarter after 8 on Friday night on the Princess Street side of Thalian Hall for the nationwide Lights for Liberty Candlelight Vigil, locally hosted by Women Organizing Wilmington (WOW!), NAACP, New Hanover County Chapter of the Legislative Black Caucus, Black Lives Matter, Jews for Justice, Grandmothers for Peace, End Cash Bail, Stand Up for Racial Justice and Working Films. WOW’s Lynn Shoemaker asked the crowd if anyone had ever been caught speeding? Hands went up. “How many of you, when stopped by a traffic officer, had your children taken away from you because you were driving fast?” Hands dropped. Shoemaker noted how local immigration attorney Vanessa Gonzalez shared last year that crossing the border without the appropriate paperwork/visa was a misdemeanor offense equivalent to speeding in a car.
“Seeking asylum is not a crime and it is not illegal!” Shoemaker reminded. Speaker after speaker shared stories and experiences. As the dusk settled in, battery-operated tea lights start to appear.
I don’t think encore’s readership needs me to recount the conditions in the detention camps at the border. Even Vice President Mike Pence, who visited two camps in Texas last week, acknowledged overcrowding, according to The Washington Post:
“He saw nearly 400 men crammed behind caged fences with not enough room for them all to lie down on the concrete ground. There were no mats or pillows for those who found the space to rest. A stench from body odor hung stale in the air.
“When reporters toured the facility before Pence, the men screamed that they’d been held there 40 days, some longer. They said they were hungry and wanted to brush their teeth. It was sweltering hot, but the only water was outside the fences and they needed to ask permission from the Border Patrol agents to drink.”
Reading the national news can feel isolating, as if this happens very far away—Texas, Florida, California—but North Carolina is not immune. At present our General Assembly is working on House Bill 370 (HB 370): Require Cooperation with ICE Detainers. In short language it would require local sheriffs to detain persons wanted by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On the face it doesn’t sound so bad. Government flows upward, cities report to counties, counties report to the state, and states to the federal government. However, critics of the bill are concerned it would essentially coerce local law enforcement into doing ICE’s work.
“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
– Franklin Delano Roosevelt
On July 12 The Raleigh News & Observer published a piece exploring misconceptions about HB 370. The piece noted at present, there is no law requiring local sheriff’s to comply with ICE detainers—which some say is why Republicans want to pass the bill. “When ICE learns that one of their persons-of-interest has been arrested and jailed, a letter is sent to the sheriff who took custody of the inmate. This letter, known as an ICE detainer request, asks the sheriff to let ICE interview the person and possibly take custody.” As the News & Observer reminds, a request is not a warrant signed by a judge, and federal law does not require local law enforcement to comply. So if a sheriff decides not to comply, they are not actually breaking the law as it currently stands.
Even Governor Cooper is skeptical of the aim of this bill. His office released a statement regarding HB 370 on June 24. He acknowledged how law ensures we lock up dangerous criminals no matter immigration status. But he goes on to state, “This bill isn’t about that—in addition to being unconstitutional, it’s about scoring political points and using fear to divide us.”
However, the current issue is not about criminals only. It is focused on anyone who has been detained, prior to establishing guilt by due process of law. For example, let’s say you have crossed into Canada to buy some asthma inhalers and insulin and indulged in some Labatt Blue. There was a hockey game on, one thing led to another and, well, you aren’t well-versed in traffic laws in Canada. The speed limit signs are in kilometers instead of miles per hour. A car accident occurs in Quebec and you get picked up by Canadian immigration. Instead of them giving you a traffic ticket and sending you back to the U.S. to endure the misery of months of cross-border communication, insurance nightmares, and the joy of explaining to U.S. border officials why you have Canadian medication, you go into custody. You await deportation at the hands of an organization operating without an actual judicial warrant for your arrest for a crime you may or may not have committed. You have been tried and convicted without benefit of due process of law. If you have children with you, they are separated from you, taken into a system where you have no recourse or ability to protect them.
Sen. Thom Tillis supports the bill. He has told media that NC Sheriffs refusing to cooperate with ICE hold unpopular opinions supported by a small group of people. What does that mean? Quite simply, he is pinpointing six of North Carolina’s seven most populous counties—including Buncombe, Durham, Mecklenburg and Wake—that elected African-American sheriffs. Many ran campaigns promising to limit collaboration with ICE. Though Governor Cooper has expressed his dismay with HB 370, he has not stated he would veto it if it came to his desk.
So where do we land in all this? Well, North Carolina’s coastal area falls into a Constitutional gray zone regarding the Fourth Amendment—or the prohibition against illegal searches. The Fourth Amendment prevents random and unnecessary stops and searches. Yet, some of these constitutional principles aren’t applicable at our borders. The border crossings consist of federal authorities, who don’t need warrants for routine searches of luggage or vehicles. The 100-mile buffer zone from a border falls into this area. So the entirety of Florida, Maine, and Hawaii are within the 100-mile buffer zone. Wilmington, North Carolina, most certainly is, due to our geographic location on the ocean. In theory, anyone could arrive or depart via boat. Certainly, we have history of people departing here during wars and as part of the underground railroad.
So what can we actually do? Knowing and understanding your rights is important. An ICE detainer is not the same as a warrant signed by a judge. So if police flash a warrant, they can enter a home; ICE officers showing deportation papers or warrants cannot unless the homeowners consent.
What to do if police of ICE arrive at your door…
1. Ask if they are immigration agents and what they are there for.
2. Ask them to show a badge or identification through the window or peephole.
3. Ask to see a warrant signed by a judge, and for them to slide it under the door or hold it up to a window so you can inspect it.
4. Don’t lie or produce any false documents. Don’t sign anything without speaking with a lawyer first.
5. Do not open your door unless ICE shows you a judicial search or arrest warrant naming a person in the residence or search area of the address. If they don’t have it, keep the door closed and state, “I do not consent to your entry.”
6. If agents force their way in, do not resist. to exercise your rights; state: “I do not consent to your entry or your search of these premises. I am exercising my right to remain silent. I wish to speak with a lawyer as soon as possible.”
7. If you are on probation with a search condition, law enforcement can enter your home.