Bruno Hinojosa Ruiz, the co-director of Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción, told county commissioners at their April 17 meeting that he has grown a couple of grey hairs over the past several days.
The reason? Starting on April 14, CIMA and other local advocacy groups received word that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were detaining people in the Asheville area.
“My community has not slept since Saturday morning,” he said.
Many members of the local immigrant community, Ruiz says, have been too scared to go to work or send their kids to school. “I believe it is your responsibility as county commissioners to hold some accountability to this agency,” he said.
Missy Harris, the co-pastor of Circle of Mercy in Asheville, read a statement to the county commission on behalf of Faith for Justice, a group of faith leaders in Buncombe County. The actions taken by the agency, she said, have been devastating.
“We are calling on the city of Asheville and Buncombe County to publicly condemn the ICE presence and their use of manipulative tactics against residents in our county,” she said. “Portraying immigrants and refugees as criminals and threats rather than seeing them as beloved children of God is immoral and un-American.”
Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara posted a statement on Facebook on April 18 expressing support for the local immigrant community and applauding the efforts of local organizations.
“We live in a community of many heroes and many of these stories may never see the light of day,” Beach-Ferrara wrote. “An incredible alliance of Latino, civil rights and faith-based organizers are working around the clock to document what is happening and support impacted families. From Buncombe County Schools to Pisgah Legal Services to Minnie Jones Health Clinic, educators and direct service providers are working to ensure people can access schools and services safely.”
ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox told Xpress that the agency’s presence in North Carolina is not a new development.
Cox said the agency doesn’t typically track arrest data below the field-office level but confirmed that the agency made 40 arrests in North Carolina last week. Fifteen were in Western North Carolina.
North Carolina falls under the agency’s Atlanta field office, Cox said, which also includes Georgia and South Carolina. In fiscal year 2017, Cox said, the field office made 13,551 administrative immigration arrests. Cox said 67 percent of those arrested had been convicted of a criminal offense beyond their immigration status.
“ICE continues to focus its limited resources first and foremost on those who pose the greatest threat to public safety, and any suggestions as to ICE engaging in random or indiscriminate enforcement are categorically false,” Cox said. “ICE does not conduct any type of indiscriminate raids or sweeps that target aliens indiscriminately.”
A statement from the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office on April 16 said the office has not participated in any recent ICE operations in the county. The sheriff’s office does not participate in the 287(g) program, which delegates immigration authority to local law enforcement agencies.
Coming tomorrow: Commissioners move forward on expanding county EMS contracts to include for-profit service providers