Chapel Hill News

Chapel Hill restaurant, church host police, attorney for immigration talk

A local restaurateur hosted law enforcement and concerned citizens for an open dialogue on immigration Tuesday at Christ United Methodist Church in Southern Village.

The meeting was held as President Donald Trump’s administration made public new immigration enforcement rules aimed, among other things, at expanding who can be deported immediately after being arrested and requiring immigrants awaiting an asylum hearing to wait in the country they are trying to leave.

Another potential change that Trump is seeking would expand the 287(g) program, which authorizes local and state law enforcement to help enforce immigration laws. Only five North Carolina counties now participate in the program: Cabarrus, Gaston, Henderson, Mecklenburg and Wake.

Pazzo restaurant owner Seth Kingsbury said he wanted to clear the air after last week’s rumors that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were operating a checkpoint in Chapel Hill. While no immigrants are working at his restaurant, he saw a lot of fear expressed by friends on Facebook, he said.

“It’s not a political event. It’s not a demonstration. It’s just an information session, because there are so many people in the community who are terrified,” Kingsbury said. “I know a lot of the local law enforcement guys, so I just reached out to them in hopes they could send some people here.”

A Durham immigration attorney and several Chapel Hill and Carrboro police officers spent about an hour fielding questions. A Univision reporter taped the meeting and interviewed officials for a later broadcast on Spanish-language television.

Chapel Hill Police Assistant Chief Celisa Lehew noted that the department posted a statement debunking the rumored checkpoint to its Twitter account; the post was retweeted 309 times. The best way to find out what’s happening is to talk with an officer, Lehew and Carrboro police Capt. Chris Atack said.

“We are always open to hear from anyone at any time,” Lehew said.

Neither department requires officers to check immigration status or detain people who are in the country illegally, both officers said. They also don’t participate in ICE checkpoints or partnerships, Lehew said.

“Carrboro, Chapel Hill, we don’t care. We never care,” Atack said. “It’s not a question that comes up in normal conversation. We don’t say, ‘I’m sorry, we need to see immigration status before we help you.’ We are here to serve people in our community.”

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood has said his deputies also are not required to ask about immigration status. ICE agents can get an alert, however, when someone is arrested for a crime and their fingerprints are added to the national database.

Durham immigration attorney Jack Rockers said that, despite the rumors, ICE agents normally take targeted enforcement actions instead of random checkpoints. The problem is people in the community don’t know what could happen, and that is affecting their lives, he said.

“It could be a raid on a business maybe, or actually going to someone’s house and trying to encounter someone at their house,” he said. “There is a memo called ‘sensitive areas’ that ICE respects – ICE won’t go into a school; they’re not going to go into a church – and that ‘sensitive areas’ memo is still in effect.”

ICE and other law enforcement officers cannot enter private residences or non-public areas of a business without a warrant, officials have said. The National Immigration Law Center advises immigrants to make sure the warrant is valid before opening their door to federal agents.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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