Amid growing concern in the community, police chiefs in Chapel Hill and Carrboro told 500 Latinos this week that local police are not out looking for people in the country illegally.
The crowd at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, many of them parents with small children, lined the walls of the fellowship hall and spilled into the lobby as they listened to the meeting, held mostly in Spanish.
“This full room – standing room only – makes very clear (that) people are afraid in uncertain times,” Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said, his words interpreted into Spanish by Pilar Rocha-Goldberg, the executive director of El Centro Hispano, which organized the meeting.
El Centro Hispano (The Hispanic Center) held three meetings in Chapel Hill, Durham and Hillsborough, attracting nearly 900 people.
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The message was the same: despite rumors and President Donald Trump’s orders to remove people who are in the United States illegally, there have not been any Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids locally and local police are not out looking for people to deport.
“Law enforcement in Orange County believes local cops do not have a role in immigration,” Blue said. “We will not stop you to determine your immigration status. We will not detain you while we determine your immigration status.”
Carrboro Police Chief Walter Horton agreed, inviting anyone who has a bad experience with one of his officers to call him.
“We’re not in the immigration business,” Horton said. “We will not focus on anyone’s immigration status as long as I am chief of police.”
At Thursday’s meeting, immigration attorney Beckie Moriello advised the crowd, “guardar silencio,” (remain silent) and not tell what country they are from if they get stopped by police. Don’t lie, she told them, because lying to police is a crime, but don’t offer more information than you have to.
In an interview Friday, Moriello said about 400,000 people were being deported annually under the Obama administration, but President Trump has broadened the categories of people subject to deportation to include those charged with a crime, as well as those convicted.
“Even if a person has one DWI, that person probably has a family, that person probably has a job and an employer that wants him to stay here,” she said.
Moriello said the best way to avoid trouble is to avoid getting arrested – even the odor of alcohol after a single beer can provide cause for a driver’s arrest, she said.
Don’t get into loud arguments, don’t hit your partner, don’t do drugs or hang out with people doing drugs, she said. Don’t carry an ID card from a foreign country like Mexico’s matricula consular and don’t post information on Facebook or other social media that identifies you are from another country, she said.
For those who are not charged with a crime, “your chances of getting picked up at random by the boogeyman are very, very low,” Moriello said.
About 13.4 percent of the Durham County population and 8.5 percent of the Orange County population is Hispanic, according to 2015 U.S. Census estimates. No one knows how many local Latinos are here illegally, Rocha-Goldberg said.
“People need to be alert to what is going on,” and have a plan, she said.
At the same time, “I’m telling people don’t panic, don’t see ICE everywhere you go, because you can’t live your life (that way),” she said.