Durham County

Immigrant, refugee backers pack church to affirm Durham as inclusive

Rafael Mejia embraces his daughter, Danna Mejia, 11, during a forum hosted by Durham C.A.N. and the N.C. Congress of Latino Organizations at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Sunday, March 5, 2017. Officials representing Durham’s law enforcement agencies, city, county and school governments were invited to clarify the way authorities will interact with immigrants in the current environment.
Rafael Mejia embraces his daughter, Danna Mejia, 11, during a forum hosted by Durham C.A.N. and the N.C. Congress of Latino Organizations at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Sunday, March 5, 2017. Officials representing Durham’s law enforcement agencies, city, county and school governments were invited to clarify the way authorities will interact with immigrants in the current environment. newsobserver.com

More than 1,300 Latinos, Muslims, refugees, immigrants, their families and supporters filled Immaculate Conception Catholic Church on Sunday to affirm Durham as a city of inclusion.

The event, which organizers insisted was not a protest, was hosted by the N.C. Congress of Latino Organizations and Durham Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods and conducted in English and Spanish.

“We hope that as we leave here, we’re not going to be leaving with confusion but rather with hope,” said Banlly Baquedano, a representative of Iglesia Hispana Emanuel and mother of two.

The forum comes after a Feb. 20 checkpoint set up near Durham’s School of Creative Studies.

Durham County Sheriff’s Office officials said the checkpoint was in response to speeding complaints, not an attempt to trap immigrants. The following day the department announced the appointment of Capt. Raheem Aleem – a Spanish-speaking Muslim officer – as its new liaison to the Hispanic community.

Sheriff’s Maj. Paul Martin spoke on behalf of the department at Sunday’s event.

“Our main concern at the Durham County sheriff’s department is the fact that rumors will drive people deeper into the underground,” Martin said, citing concerns of slumlords and loan sharks taking advantage of fear.

Durham Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis said that as a mother and resident, she is concerned about what is happening in the nation.

“Checkpoints in the city of Durham have been directed to cease and desist,” Davis said.

Organizers said the purpose of Sunday’s gathering was to meet with decision-makers representing Durham’s law enforcement agencies, city, county and school leaders to clarify the way authorities will interact with immigrants in the face of “federal pressure” to deport them.

The message of Sunday’s forum was similar to one held in late February at St. Thomas More Catholic Church with police chiefs from Chapel Hill and Carrboro after President Donald Trump’s orders to remove people who are in the United States illegally.

Police officials from Chapel Hill and Carrboro said that local officers were not out looking for people to deport and that there had not been any Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in the area.

Bert L’Homme, Durham Public Schools superintendent, said DPS is not providing confidential student information to ICE. He affirmed that DPS is open to all.

Speaking in Spanish, City Councilman Steve Schewel said the Faith ID, an unofficial alternative ID promoted by Durham-based El Centro Hispano that requires proof of identification and address, is acceptable in Durham.

Those in attendance were provided with information about “Know Your Rights” workshops, immigration clinics.

The next two are scheduled from 3 to 4:30 p.m. March 12 and April 9 at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 810 W. Chapel Hill St.

Free legal services for power of attorney will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 25 and April 22 at the church.

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