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ICE Raids North Carolina After Local Authorities End Cooperation


Last month, immigration raids in North Carolina swept up more than 200 undocumented immigrants. That comes after sheriffs and a number of big counties in the state ended their cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The raids have left immigrant communities scared. Naomi Prioleau of member station WUNC has more.

NAOMI PRIOLEAU, BYLINE: Maria Telles-Sosa and her husband live in a three-bedroom trailer with their two daughters and six grandkids.

MARIA TELLES-SOSA: (Speaking Spanish).

PRIOLEAU: She says, right now, they're just really afraid. Sosa is an undocumented immigrant, and so is her husband, and so are her daughters, and so are their husbands. In early February, Sosa's husband and her two sons-in-law were all arrested at an ICE checkpoint. Their crime was driving without a license.

TELLES-SOSA: (Speaking Spanish).

PRIOLEAU: She says she and her two daughters were left without their husbands. It was really stressful, she says, and she was afraid her daughters would be picked up, too. These checkpoints are causing fear throughout the undocumented community in North Carolina, estimated at more than 300,000. But Sean Gallagher says ICE has no choice but to increase enforcement. He's the regional director of ICE for Georgia and the Carolinas.


SEAN GALLAGHER: The uptick that you've seen - again, direct result of some of the dangerous policies that some of our county sheriffs have put into place. And it really forces my officers to go out on the street to conduct more enforcement operations.

PRIOLEAU: After the November election, newly elected sheriffs - all Democrats - and four North Carolina counties abruptly ended their cooperation with ICE. They will no longer honor requests from ICE to hold individuals with questionable immigration status after criminal charges have been resolved.

Gallagher's statement angered immigrant rights organizations across the state. The American Civil Liberties Union called the raids a, quote, "retaliatory detention rampage." Mayors of seven of North Carolina's major cities published a public letter expressing their opposition, saying, these raids are detrimental to the welcoming, stable, loving communities that we work every day to build. Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles did not sign the letter.

A recent city council meeting blew up over the issue.


STEPHANIE HAMRICK: This failure to support our most vulnerable neighbors is a moral outrage.

PRIOLEAU: That's Stephanie Hamrick. She was one of many residents who was angry that Mayor Lyles stayed silent. Lyles defended herself, saying she didn't sign the letter because she's focusing instead on creating an immigrant community committee. She has said that, quote, "words are not enough" when it comes to helping her city's immigrants.

But not everyone in North Carolina opposes working with ICE. In rural Alamance County, sheriff Terry Johnson and the Alamance Board of Commissioners recently voted to continue their cooperation with the immigration agency.

TERRY JOHNSON: They crossed the border illegally first time. That is not my concern. But when they crossed the border illegally, come in here, deal drugs, kill people, cartel activity - that is my concern.

PRIOLEAU: In their latest contract with ICE, the agency will pay the county $135 per inmate per day. The county also agreed to fill at least 30 beds per day for the first month, and after that, 50 beds per day. Johnson says their partnership with ICE is nothing more than following the law and protecting their citizens, but it will help the county earn money that it desperately needs. Amy Galey is the county board chair.

AMY GALEY: Alamance County has a historically low property tax rate, and we struggle with funding some of the things that our school system and other county needs are. So this is a way for our sheriff's department to be a little more independent.

TELLES-SOSA: (Speaking Spanish).

PRIOLEAU: As the discussions about ICE continue, Maria Telles-Sosa hopes to stay in North Carolina.

TELLES-SOSA: (Speaking Spanish).

PRIOLEAU: She says she can't go back to Mexico and wants to be with her family. For NPR News, I'm Naomi Prioleau in Greensboro, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Naomi Prioleau joined WUNC in January 2017 as their Greensboro Bureau reporter.