City Council backs off policing illegal immigration

City Council faced a packed chamber at its July 24 meeting, with many there for a public hearing to voice their anger over proposed involuntary annexations of three areas south and southwest of city limits. The crowd was so big, in fact, that many were directed to an overflow room to watch the proceedings on TV.

However, the greatest hue and cry at the seven-hour marathon meeting wasn’t over annexation (which won’t face a Council vote until Aug. 14), but rather illegal immigration, an issue that conservative Council member Carl Mumpower has pushed repeatedly over the past year. Of the 18 people who spoke on the immigration issue at the public hearing, all but three asked the Council to back a suggestion by Asheville Police Chief William Hogan that the city not enter into a relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 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 ICE’s direct supervision.

“I have a real hesitancy” to do that, Hogan told Council members.  In addition, he said, “We haven’t even been able to get ICE to sit down and talk about it with us.” The Henderson County Sheriff’s Office has already signed such an agreement with the feds, but it, too, has faced delays with ICE and has yet to be trained, Hogan said. As it stands, immigration offenses are civil violations and the police department is only authorized to handle criminal violations. Since ICE has been unresponsive, and the city could face costly litigation if it tried to enforce immigration laws unilaterally, Hogan suggested to Council that it drop the idea. The department, he said, would continue to check the residency status of suspected criminals and notify ICE, which would then have to issue a detainer before the police could detain a suspected illegal alien.

Hearing Hogan and the heartfelt pleas of speakers, the Council voted 6-1 (with Mumpower against) to follow Hogan’s recommendation.

Many speakers said the city’s priorities were misplaced. “Why are we trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist?” one asked.

A few speakers said that immigration enforcement is indeed a problem, but one that must be addressed at the federal rather than local level. Several other speakers, many of them legal immigrants or naturalized children of immigrants from places such as Mexico and Colombia, said the city would only set the table for racial profiling and civil rights abuses if such an arrangement with ICE was approved.

Edna Campos, a Texas native whose parents came from Mexico, echoed many when she said 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 said.

“When I first visited here with my husband, I found this area to be very welcoming,” said Campos, who now lives here and works as 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, local 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 she was 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 on the issue because of information she has 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 through illegal aliens. But she backed Hogan’s suggestion anyway, saying, “I’m going to get nasty e-mails no matter how I vote.”

Vice Mayor Holly Jones said she was conflicted, too, but added that, “The issue, right or wrong, is a scary, divisive issue,” and that city enforcement of immigration would be “a bad use of community energy.” She also pointed out her adopted daughter from Guatemala and the three-year struggle to secure her citizenship, but lamented that her daughter would still likely face the harsh side of the immigration debate.

“Because of her beautiful dark skin and eyes I know she’s going to experience this [discrimination] somewhere along the way.”

Mumpower, who has championed immigration enforcement as a means to combat drugs and other crime, said he would not be deterred and that the Council could expect further efforts by him to address the issue. “I will be back as soon as I can with more proposals,” he vowed.

Mumpower, however, bristled at the insinuation from a few speakers that his stance on immigration was discriminatory.

“I want to say something very clearly: I am the ally of people who come here to this country legally to uplift it,” he said. “But I’m the enemy of people who come to this country illegally simply to use it.”
For more details and a full report on the Council’s meeting, check out the Wed., Aug. 1, edition of Xpress.

Hal L. Millard, staff writer


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5 thoughts on “City Council backs off policing illegal immigration

  1. Locally Grown

    Yesterday a FEDERAL judge, in the appeals case of John and Jane Doe vs. the city of Hazelton, PA ruled against the City for trying to enact its’ own immigration laws.

    That’s right AGAINST The City.

    In his comments included in the ruling he stated that (and I paraphrase, but the ruling is available online):

    According to the US Constitution there is no such thing as an “illegal alien;” he states that everyone who is on US soil is here legally.

    He continued that only after being convicted of failing to register etc., then being deported to their home country and then being arrested again here in the US and subsequently convicted again, are they considered under the US Constitution and hence by the Federal Government, to be illegal.

    Look it up, it was on at least 3 national news programs last night: NBC, CNN and FOX!

  2. Mary

    To the federal judge who said that there is no such thing as an “illegal alien”…

    I married someone from the U.K. – you know, our ALLIES! – and he was not allowed here (even though we were married) until we had spent thousands of dollars and waited for two and a half years!!! Even when we met in Canada once, their government GRILLED us both at the airport!! They wanted to know what guarentee we could give to be certain he would not try to cross the border to this country!!! He was even detained, and subsequently sent back to the U.K., at the airport in Atlanta – we were NOT even allowed to see each other while he waited to fly back on the next plane!! If this isn’t being treated like an “illegal alien”, I don’t know what is!?!

    In the meantime, while waiting for my HUSBAND to be “allowed” into the country – I saw on a daily basis, those who were here illegally being allowed to stay here illegally. And to top this off, I actually worked (be it ever so briefly!) at a hospital in this country that allowed “non-citizens” to have FREE surgeries and treatments at their facility!! (My husband has NEVER had any type of free medical treatments since being here!)
    I am all for legit. peoples of all races/colors/creeds/countries/etc. coming to this country, IF they are going to do so LEGALLY! But speaking from personal experience, I will say that I am biased but only towards those that are making it rediculously hard for those of us who ARE following the ‘law’. Unfortunately, this is a problem in this country and we must all become involved with the issue. Otherwise you will continue to see other citizens like my self, being treated like comman criminals and those who are breaking the “laws” being given only a ‘slap on the wrist’ if even that much.

  3. Serious point that needs to be made: Immigrants aren’t bad people. I hate it when people refer to them in a negative light. If you made 2 dollars an hour on one side of town, and you knew you could make 8 dollars an hour on the other side, you would go.

    Obligatory joke: What are the odds that some stupid hippie posts on here something about how “we’re all illegal aliens” and brings up atrocities that Europeans committed upon Native Americans?

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