The Asheville City Council faced a packed chamber on July 24, with many there to voice their anger over the proposed involuntary annexation of three areas south and southwest of the city limits. The crowd was so big, in fact, that many were directed to an overflow room to watch the proceedings on TV.
The greatest hue and cry at the seven-hour meeting, however, was not about annexation (which won’t face a Council vote until Aug. 14) but about illegal immigration, an issue that Council member Carl Mumpower has pushed repeatedly over the last year. Of the 18 people who spoke during the public hearing, all but three asked Council to back a suggestion by police Chief William Hogan that the city not enter into a relationship with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. At Mumpower’s behest, Council had asked Hogan several months ago to explore the idea, which would empower a handful of designated police officers to become de facto immigration-enforcement agents under the ICE’s direct supervision.
“I have a real hesitancy” to do that, said Hogan, adding, “We haven’t even been able to get ICE to sit down and talk about it with us.” Meanwhile, the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, which has signed such an agreement with the feds, has faced delays and has yet to be trained, he noted. Immigration offenses are civil violations, and the Police Department is authorized to handle only criminal violations. Since the federal agency has been unresponsive, and the city could face costly litigation if it tried to enforce immigration laws unilaterally, Hogan advised Council to drop the idea.
APD officers already detain suspected illegal immigrants involved in drug sales, but only under specific conditions, he said. The officer must immediately notify the federal agency, which must then issue a detainer. Otherwise, the officer can’t continue to hold the person for the suspected immigration violation, though they can be held, pending bond, for the criminal violation, Hogan explained.
Then it was the public’s turn to weigh in, and many speakers said the city’s priorities were misplaced. “Why are we trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist?” asked one.
A few speakers argued that while immigration enforcement is indeed a problem, it must be addressed at the federal level. Several others—many of them legal immigrants or naturalized children of immigrants from places such as Mexico and Colombia—said the city would be opening the door to racial profiling and civil-rights abuses by making such an arrangement with ICE.
Edna Campos, a Texas native whose parents came from Mexico, echoed many when she said that the backlash against Latinos has already begun. The abuse of legal immigrants encompasses everything from slurs to admonishments to leave the country, Campos and others reported.
“When I first visited here with my husband, I found this area to be very welcoming,” said Campos, a political consultant and organizer. “It’s sad that Asheville, in the last few years, has become less welcoming.”
At the other end of the spectrum, anti-illegal-immigration activist Cathy Lack told Council, “You have to take a stand as an American and do the right thing.” Fellow activist Cathy Rhodarmer added that she’s fed up with illegal immigrants coming here intent only on making money, with little interest in assimilating or becoming legal residents. “My tax money should go to my family and my community, not illegal foreign nationals,” she said. “I love this country, and I want people who come to this country to love it as well.”
Mayor Terry Bellamy said she was conflicted about the issue because of information she’s received—most notably a recent conversation with a U.S. attorney who told her that unprecedented levels of methamphetamine and other drugs are moving into the area, largely brought in by illegal aliens. But Bellamy backed Hogan’s suggestion anyway, saying, “I’m going to get nasty e-mails no matter how I vote.”
Vice Mayor Holly Jones also expressed some ambivalence, saying, “Right or wrong, [it] is a scary, divisive issue.” But having the city enforce immigration laws, she added, would be “a bad use of community energy.” Jones also mentioned her three-year struggle to secure citizenship for her adopted daughter, who is from Guatemala. “Because of her beautiful dark skin and eyes, I know she’s going to experience this [discrimination] somewhere along the way.”
But Mumpower, who has championed immigration enforcement as a way to combat drug trafficking and other crime, said he would not be deterred, vowing, “I will be back as soon as I can with more proposals.”
Mumpower also emphasized that he’s not anti-immigrant, declaring, “I want to say something very clearly: I am the ally of people who come here to this country legally to uplift it. But I’m the enemy of people who come to this country illegally simply to use it.”
After hearing Hogan and the public’s heartfelt pleas, however, City Council voted 6-1 to follow the chief’s recommendation, with Mumpower opposed.
With the immigration issue at least temporarily on the back burner, Council members turned their attention to another hot potato: involuntary annexation. Thirteen people spoke during a public hearing on the issue, and 12 of them contested a proposed plan to annex part of the Biltmore Lake subdivision, as well as a subdivision off Sardis Road and a commercial area along Long Shoals Road known as Schenck Gateway.
City Council will vote on the proposed annexations separately on Tuesday, Aug. 14. If approved, those areas would become part of the city on Dec. 31, according to Planning Department staffer Julia Cogburn.
The vast majority of the opposition came from Biltmore Lake residents. While some objected to forced annexation in general, many also disliked the fact that the annexation would include only part of the subdivision, which Cogburn said is unavoidable under state law. Dividing the community between the city and county would be disruptive and cause confusion, opponents said.
“Partial annexation clearly doesn’t lead to a harmonious neighborhood,” said Biltmore Lake resident Nelson Sartoris. “It will surely splinter our community.”
“Asheville is a great city, but it’s not my home,” added another speaker.
Biltmore Lake resident Dieter Buehler said he considers forced annexation unconstitutional. North Carolina, he noted, is one of the few states that allows it. Buehler also gave Council members a warning, saying, “There’s a North Carolina-style Boston Tea Party brewing all over the state.”
Following a lengthy presentation by Assistant City Attorney Martha Walker-McGlohon, Council voted 6-1 to uphold an order to demolish three Tunnel Road buildings the city had condemned in 2004 as unsafe, unsightly and a lure for vagrants and vandals, among other concerns.
The out-of-state owners of the former Days Inn motel complex have made little effort to work with the city to renovate the site and bring it up to code, reported Walker-McGlohon. But a lawyer for the owners pleaded for 45 more days so a local architect and structural engineer they’d hired could come up with a suitable renovation plan.
Bellamy said she voted against the demolition order because she knows and respects the local architect and believed a plan would be forthcoming.
In any case, the owners still have a chance to preserve their buildings: It will take more than 45 days for the city to solicit bids for the demolition work, among other things, according to City Attorney Bob Oast. If an acceptable plan is submitted within that time frame, the buildings could be saved from the wrecking ball.