The state we're in

Via the Citizen, this week's Letter from the Editor:

I was in the Triad the other day visiting with some fellow media types including blogger Jon Lowder, who related an incident he’d happened upon while returning from a recent visit to Pittsboro.

Lowder encountered a traffic stop on N.C. 87 just inside the Alamance County line. After watching the sheriff deputies and highway patrol checking licenses and looking over the cars, Lowder said it was apparent that the law was interested in vehicles with Hispanic occupants and not much interested in anyone else.

Alamance, as many of you know, is one of a handful of counties in North Carolina that receives federal funds for participating in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) program, which allows them to identify and deport those in the country illegally.

Roughly $750,000 went out to North Carolina sheriffs last year. This year, the amount’s been upped to $1 million even though agencies weren’t able to spend all of the previous allocation.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but shortly after passage, Sen. Elizabeth Dole appeared in a campaign commercial with some of those sheriffs.

This week, Rep. David Price said he supported expanding the program, but took flack from anti-immigrant activists because he’s said the program should focus on those in jail and not those gainfully employed. Too soft, they said, pushing for more workplace raids.

While on paper the 287(g) program is intended to apprehend those committing crimes within the community, the techniques used and the results are dubious. It is proving to be a popular program because the people identified and deported are already in jail. But the question not being asked is ‘how did they get there?’

Since implementing the program, Alamance, which has both a swelling Latino population and a long history of anti-immigrant sentiment, has arrested, jailed and deported more than 400 individuals. Most of the offenses that result in the arrest and deportation of those individuals are for “traffic violations.” The sheriff has proudly reported a drop in crime and a reduction in gang activity. What cannot be proudly reported is that within the Hispanic community there is a growing mistrust of law enforcement and a reluctance for victims of crimes to come forward.

I ran Lowder’s story past a friend who is a civil rights attorney and learned that the traffic stop has become a key method nationwide for nabbing people under ICE. One technique used has officers set up down the road from churches around the time Spanish-language services are letting out.

While to the vehemently anti-immigrant crowd that may sound wonderfully efficient, it is pure and simple racial profiling, and on the taxpayers’ dime at that.

There’s no question that as a result of various immigration crackdowns racial profiling is growing in North Carolina. As appalling as that is, the muted reaction is more so.

It used to be that if a law-enforcement organization was engaged in racial profiling it was a bad thing. Now, it might get you featured in a campaign commercial with a politician seeking to show how tough they are.

This year’s election is shaping up to be one in which fear of “illegals” is played up to the extreme. There seem to be few politicians of any stripe willing to stand up and say it’s demagoguery. Come fall, we’ll see a variety of Democrats falling all over themselves to “me, too” the GOP on cracking down.

This is the state we’re in. Where life is a gamble if you dare to cross into Alamance, Wake or Johnston counties with brown skin and improper papers.


Driving while brown?

I am angered, but not surprised, to hear that this technique is being applied by some in our state.

Profiling Hispanic drivers for "traffic checks" is an offensive abuse of the law and the basic principles of our civil society. It is a reflection of the strong racist element within the anti-immigrant movement.

Oh, sure, there are people who are genuinely offended by the fact that anyone breaks The Law on any matter, just as there are some who are genuinely concerned about the strain on some public resources (e.g., school facilities) or the competition for low-wage jobs. But neither of those angles comes close to explaining the overheated hysteria of "illegal aliens" as a political issue. In fact, there is an ugly core of anti-Latino racism which gives this issue its political punch. Anyone who does not believe this should spend some time listening to the language and the arguments of the most vociferous anti-immigrant advocates when they're speaking candidly.

This is one of those matters on which people will be ashamed in a generation's time to admit that they did not speak out in protest. Friends, speak up now so that you don't leave yourself in that position in 20 years' time.

Dan Besse

Dan Besse


Supposedly, profiling is not to occur under this program. Deputies are supposed to arrest only those they would normally arrest. For example, they would normally arrest someone for drunk driving, but not for running a stop sign. It is supposedly meant to take criminals off the street and deport them, which is fine---if they are really committing serious crimes.

But of course "supposedly" is the key word here. It appears many brown people are being detained for minor offenses, mostly traffic.

Like Dan, I'm angered, but not surprised, that many people, including blacks, seem to feel that profiling is justified in this case because of course, we are being "invaded" and if a few legal residents and citizens are detained simply because of the color of their skin, oh well, you can't make an omelet with breaking a few eggs.