Members of Siembra NC, an immigration justice group based in Greensboro, offered support for undocumented families in Chapel Hill last night after a stream of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids led to the detention of a reported ten people across Orange and Chatham counties this week.
For the activist organization, the raids hit close to home. One of its most active members, Maria Peralta, a student at Guilford College, discovered that her stepfather was among those detained on April 9 in Chapel Hill.
In an interview with the INDY, Peralta explained that her stepfather was taking out the trash when ICE agents converged and asked for his identification. He refused to cooperate with them and was quickly detained. ICE did not notify Peralta’s family about what happened, and they assumed he had gone missing. Peralta’s mother reached out to Chapel Hill police for assistance, and they indicated that they were unaware of the raid but would be willing to offer support in any way they could.
Peralta, who frequently works with the undocumented, says she was astonished when she heard the news.
“You shouldn’t feel unsafe to throw away your trash,” she says. “And now, you feel like you have to look both ways before you even leave your home, and it’s so unsettling. Usually, I’m on the other end [as an organizer], and I’m shocked. It’s just, when it happens to you, you don’t know how to respond.”
Peralta intends to return to school soon after a harrowing week at home. Meanwhile, about ten Siembra NC representatives went door-to-door in trailer parks that are often targeted by ICE and offered practical community defense strategies so that neighbors could protect themselves in future encounters with ICE agents. Those measures included the creation of neighborhood Whatsapp groups in which residents could publicly report suspicious vehicles and people. The organization also advised undocumented residents to request signed search warrants before opening their door to ICE agents.
Rubi Franco Quiroz, a volunteer whose family members live in one of the trailer parks visited by Siembra NC, says that some of those suggestions are difficult for undocumented families to actually put into practice.
“When you’re taught from a very young age to always answer when a police officer is talking to you, to answer whatever they’re asking of you so that you can avoid staying out of trouble, this doesn’t work like that. It’s like the opposite,” Quiroz says. “It’s hard to get that into people’s minds and have them understand that and not be afraid to be resistant, and that’s just because we’ve always been told we have to obey.”
Additionally, the activist group gave out contact information for interrupters—members of the community “with papers” who can subvert ICE activities by questioning undercover agents before they’re able to conduct their operations. Andrew Willis Garcés, one of the group’s head organizers, said that once ICE agents’ identities are revealed, they rarely follow through with planned raids. Garcés is planning a training session for community members who wish to become interrupters in Chapel Hill on April 18.
Over the past several days, detentions occurred across Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Hillsborough. NC Dream Coalition, an organization led by undocumented youth, warned Orange County residents on Facebook that ICE agents had specifically been spotted at Abbey Court Apartments, trailer parks on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Pine Gate Apartments, and apartment complexes on Ephesus Church Road. In a Facebook post earlier today, another activist group, El Centro Hispano, indicated that three more individuals in Siler City may have been detained, although the INDY has not yet confirmed those reports.
Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle clarified that Carrboro police were not involved in the recent detentions and that immigration status is not a consideration in the town’s policing practices. In an online statement, Lavelle told residents that justice for immigrants is a top priority for the town. “Approximately one in five Carrboro residents were born outside of the United States. The Carrboro Board of Aldermen firmly believes that immigrants are an integral part of our community and should be welcomed and supported,” Lavelle said.
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox says because ICE has a field office nearby in Raleigh, Cox says “it’s safe to say we’re present there and make arrests there one a daily basis … The existence of ICE activities in the area this week isn’t anything outside the norm of what ICE does on daily basis.”
According to Cox, the agency made about twenty-five immigration arrests in the Triangle area this week.
In a statement, ICE maintained that it does not conduct indiscriminate detention campaigns or citizenship checkpoints. The statement also indicated that “nationally, for all of [fiscal year 2017], 92 percent of all persons arrested by ICE either had a criminal conviction, a pending criminal charge, or were already subject to a removal order issued by a federal immigration judge.”
Yet, in prior cases, like one that the INDY reported on last year, undocumented folks who have never committed a crime can still be detained if ICE encounters them while searching for a particular target. It’s still unclear whether this week’s wave of detentions occurred while ICE was pursuing someone for another active case or if the targets were sought by ICE specifically.
Peralta said she’s thankful that Siembra NC is supporting her family with legal support and advice. That includes securing a bail bond, which could cost well over $10,000. Peralta’s stepfather was transported to the notorious Stewart Detention Center in Georgia and will eventually go on trial at an immigration court. But securing his release will likely be an uphill battle. According to the Marshall Project, a criminal justice news website, 73.4 percent of immigration cases ended in deportation in 2015, and Garcés says that immigration courts in the region have been especially harsh recently.
“I just want to get back in my groove,” she says.
But as soon as she regains strength, Peralta says, she’ll be back out in the community, working directly with people who are at risk of deportation.
“Now more than ever, I’m realizing this is really important, and people like me need to know what’s going on to be informed so that we don’t have to live with fear.”