Undocumented Wake County resident Griselda Alonso thought she was living her worst nightmare last year when she got a call from her son Aaron saying he’d been detained by police in Fuquay-Varina after driving with a broken taillight. He was pulled over in a dark, wooded area and soon found himself surrounded by five police cruisers. While Aaron has legal residence under the DACA program, he had forgotten his identification at home and was told officers were “investigating” his residency status.

He was scared for his life. His mother begged him not to run. “I didn’t bring you here to get shot by a police officer,” Alonso remembered thinking to herself.

Twenty-one years ago, Alonso crossed the border from Mexico clutching three-year-old Aaron in her arms, not knowing if either would live to see American soil. 

“I had never felt the fear that I felt when I was crossing the border, and in that moment, I felt it again,” Griselda said.

The fear that a minor traffic violation could result in being separated from a loved one indefinitely is something Wake County’s undocumented population lives with every day, due in part to the Sheriff’s Office’s partnership with federal immigration enforcement authorities under the 287g program, which empowers local police departments to detain undocumented immigrants in partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. While Alonso’s son was able to return home safely that night, hundreds of other undocumented immigrants in the county—those without the protections afforded by DACA—have been deported following similar infractions.

Alonso and several other undocumented Wake County residents from activist campaign Si Familia, No 287(g) told their stories Monday night at Umstead Park United Church of Christ.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, who is up for re-election Tuesday, has participated in 287(g) since 2007, contributing to the deportation of more than fifteen hundred undocumented residents. Harrison is one of only a half-dozen sheriffs in North Carolina—and 3 percent of sheriffs nationwide—to participate in the program, which studies have shown doesn’t lead to a reduction in crime. Activists estimate the county has spent nearly $2 million implementing the program. 

“All of us who pay taxes, with documents or without, we are paying to deport our neighbors,” said Marta Hernadez.

For those living in counties that participate in the program, everyday tasks like picking up children from school or commuting to work can be nerve-racking for undocumented families who constantly fear that a minor run-in with police will have devastating consequences.  

Maria Jimenez took a taxi to speak at the meeting because something as simple as getting behind the wheel of a car is a risk. 

“You kiss and hug your family because you don’t know if its the last kiss you’re going to give them,” Jimenez said.

The program is optional for local law enforcement agencies. Harrison’s challenger in Tuesday election, Gerald Baker, has pledged to end 287(g) if elected.

“I got so emotional a while ago I had to leave,” Baker told the group after the meeting, which he attended. “It is not up to the sheriff’s office to determine who belongs in this city.”

In his INDY candidate questionnaire, Harrison said is a lot of “misunderstanding” about 287(g) and that officers do not go “out into the community to identify and apprehend individuals.” Rather, people are only screened following an arrest. 

“I will continue our efforts under this act because 287(g) is a valuable tool that has identified some very dangerous individuals,” Harrison said. “Ultimately, the 287(g) program has helped to make the Hispanic and Latino communities safer by removing individuals that might otherwise victimize innocent people.”

To learn more about the campaign to stop 287(g) or get involved, visit WakeFamiliesTogether.com