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by Alicia Torres
Early this afternoon word started spreading that residents of western NC are in fear of driving because ICE was present in the area. By 1:30 pm word was out that at least 20 people had already been picked up. According to those in the local area, ICE is stopping people on the way out of Cashiers, near the Wal-Mart in Sylva, and in Dillsboro – even stopping people as they are walking. At the roadblocks, police are asking for everyone’s IDs not just the driver’s license of the driver, which is the norm.
This attack on the undocumented community of western NC can only lead us to conclude that we, the undocumented community, cannot expect any sort of relief from the current Obama administration. Furthermore, it should alert us all that we need to develop a vigilant eye for the spread of ICE activity in our state.
We must look out not just for ourselves but for each other. According to western NC residents, they had never before witnessed as much ICE activity as today. And my gut is telling me that such intense activity will only spread into other areas of North Carolina. After all, our state has always been a testing ground for Department of Homeland Security programs such as Secure Communities and 287-g.
The painful aftermath of being picked up or having a loved one picked up by ICE may be experienced by 20 or more families in Western NC today. Such open attacks on our undocumented community are clear efforts to intimidate and instill fear in our communities and sow future seeds of injustice.
But WE, the undocumented community, should not back down from this attack; instead I invite you to fight back! Let’s fight back for ourselves, our families, and our right to a life free of fear of ICE and police intimidation. Let’s fight back against the injustices that seem to always accompany the presence of ICE in our communities.
I invite you to take pictures, to record (via phone or whatever medium), to write, and, above all, to make public whatever ICE is doing in your community. We have to be proactive in the change that we want to see. We have to hold Obama accountable for his attack on our undocumented communities. But we have to do it together, and everyone has to play their part.
Again, I ask you to keep a vigilant eye out for ICE activity and any possible injustice and publicize them. And you can also always contact us, NC DREAM Team.
image by Steve Pavey
An Ally’s Perspective on Coming Out in Small Town America
Lexington is a small town in North Carolina with a population of about 20,000. I grew up there and have watched it change over the years. The town is a little poorer than the national average, with nearly a third of all children living below the poverty line. It’s poorer now than it used to be. When the town’s two main industries – textile and furniture manufacturing – were outsourced in the 1980s and 1990s, it hit the community hard. A lot of people lost good-paying, middle-class jobs. About the same time, more immigrants began moving into the community. The same trade agreements that made outsourcing appealing to local manufacturers made life even harder for workers in the countries where these industries re-settled. To survive economically, many families had little choice but to move. Most people in Lexington don’t talk about this – they probably don’t know it. What they know is that they no longer have good, secure jobs and there are more immigrants in the community than there used to be.
Over the years, Lexington has become best known for its annual Barbeque Festival (a uniquely southern celebration that has to be experienced to be understood) and Sheriff Gerald Hege – the self-proclaimed “toughest sheriff in America” and controversial figure who, for a decade, modeled himself after Joe Arpaio – dressing deputies in paramilitary fatigues, painting jail cells pink, and reinstituting chain gangs. He was eventually suspended from office after pleading guilty to corruption charges, but launched a re-election campaign in 2010 pledging to “rid Davidson County of all illegal aliens.”
Although Hege lost the election, this kind of anti-immigrant fervor is often pervasive in small town and rural America. As a white person with citizenship privileges, I was oblivious to it until I met my best friend in the seventh grade, a young woman from Colombia. I learned from her what it was like to deal with insulting comments and prejudice on a regular basis. She’d shrug it off – “They’re just stupid,” she’d tell me. But, I knew it hurt her. And I didn’t know how to help. The idea of launching some type of resistance movement was far, far from my consciousness. Even now, it seems dangerous. There are currently over two dozen hate groups in North Carolina. Many of them set up shop in small, rural communities. And it’s important to acknowledge the special challenges young immigrants living in these places face in speaking out and fighting for their rights. In these communities, talking about being undocumented is often shunned – you just don’t do it. The threat of deportation (NC is now 100% S-Comm) and racist intimidation is very real and ever-present; and young people often experience a profound sense of isolation and powerlessness.
But, even in these communities, immigrants are finding their voices. In a subsequent post, we would like to give special attention and encouragement to four undocumented youth who, knowingly or not, stood up to this danger in a small act of resistance by coming out to us at Lexington’s Annual Multicultural Festival.
Last month, the Senate failed to pass the defense authorization bill for the first time in 48 years. This was the result of a filibuster led by Republicans and backed by two Democrats.
Senators’ main argument against the bill was that two amendments, the DREAM Act and a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, were “extraneous” and had nothing to do with defense. Clearly, they misunderstand the meaning of the word. Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would allow gays and lesbians to serve openly and honestly in the military.
And the DREAM Act would allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, graduated from U.S. high schools, and have no criminal record to earn legal status by serving in the military or attending a four-year university.
Unlike our elected officials whose rhetoric often aims to divide, these groups recognize that immigrant rights and LGBTQ rights are closely connected. Both groups are scapegoated, face multiple forms of discrimination, and are denied basic human rights and protections under our nation’s laws.
While politicians continue to play games with their lives, undocumented and LGBTQ communities are reaching out and supporting each other in their fight for justice for all. Click here to read their recently released unity statement.