Federal officials say there's nothing new or different about how they've been arresting people for immigration violations in Charlotte this week. But the arrests raised fears in the city's Latin-American community. Many see it as part of a nationwide anti-immigrant campaign led by the White House.
Outside Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center Friday, Hector Vaca told reporters his group Action NC counted at least 17 arrests in recent days by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Charlotte.
“This campaign of terror that is part of our president's war on immigrant families needs to stop,” Vaca said.
Vaca and other representatives from Charlotte's Latin-American community called on elected officials and police to help protect immigrants. He spoke specifically to the city council.
“They could pass a resolution denouncing these ICE raids. They could pass a resolution saying the city will not collaborate with immigration officials,” he said.
ICE officials were unable to provide arrest data specifically about Charlotte. But spokesman Brian Cox says the pace of arrests hasn’t changed in ICE’s Georgia and Carolinas region - it's steady at about 200 a week.
Cox says there's no major sweep - agents are just doing what they always do: Targeting individuals already identified as violating immigration laws.
[The Washington Post reported that ICE agents conducted raids in at least six states, arresting hundreds of people in what was described as the first "large-scale raids" since President Trump ordered a crackdown Jan. 26.]
Whatever the case, the arrests are raising new fears in immigrant communities already uneasy over President Trump's anti-immigrant comments and his call for a crackdown on sanctuary cities that help immigrants in the country illegally.
City officials are trying to walk a fine line: Charlotte's not a sanctuary city, they say, but they also know they need to reaffirm city's commitment to immigrants. Here's Mayor Jennifer Roberts on WFAE's "Charlotte Talks" Thursday:
“The state passed a law prohibiting sanctuary cities in North Carolina. We are complying with state and federal law. We want to be a welcoming city within state and federal law.”
Immigrants hear that, but they're still afraid, says business owner Manolo Betancur. He's from Colombia and is now a citizen, who owns Las Delicias Bakery on Central Avenue.
“Remember, United States is founded by immigrants. This is an immigrant city,” Betancur said. “This is a welcoming city and a world class city, and a world class city doesn't do this.”
For now, there's nothing on the city council agenda that would change local policy. And complying with state law could get harder: A bill filed this week in the state legislature would actually stiffen penalties against local governments that don’t do enough to crack down on immigrants here illegally.
Feb. 10, 2017, WashingtonPost.com, "Federal agents conduct immigration raids in at least six states."