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A black hole.In response to swelling anti-immigrant hysteria across North Carolina, state law enforcement officials in seven counties and one city have signed up to use their own resources to help the federal government identify and deport undocumented immigrants.  So-called "287(g) agreements" with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), authorize certain officers in local police and sheriff's departments to enforce federal immigration laws.

Immigrants' rights advocates have principally criticized 287(g) agreements by arguing that they pose a serious threat to public safety: After all, if the police are going to fight crime effectively, they need the public's trust and cooperation. And it's pretty hard to convince undocumented immigrants to report crimes and assist in investigations if there isn't a clear distinction between the local police and federal immigration officials.  This is to say nothing of the fact that 287(g) agreements effectively commandeer limited state and local resources to enforce brutish federal immigration laws.

Now add this to the case against 287(g) agreements: The prospect of indefinite detention in county jails for people who are merely suspected of being undocumented immigrants.  An article in this week's Independent Weekly reports on the nightmarish bureaucratic limbo that is the Wake County 287(g) program:

Of the 321 inmates processed by Wake County's 287(g) officers since the program began earlier this summer, 201 were held for possible deportation. ICE spokesmen couldn't say how many were kept in custody past the 48-hour deadline… Immigration attorney Ricardo Vasquez, who has a client he says has languished in ICE custody for more than 70 days, says the problem starts at Wake County jail. If ICE places a hold on a prisoner's release, the magistrate may not issue a bond even though it's required by law. And when a bond has been issued, those trying to post it may be told they can't because of the ICE detainer — even if the detainer has expired.

So we have documented cases of people being held in Wake County jail under no lawful authority whatsoever.  This should be intolerable to anyone who thinks the government ought to follow its own laws, regardless of his or her position on U.S. immigration policy and enforcement.  Whether similar problems are occurring in the other counties with 287(g) agreements needs to be investigated.  However, the easiest, fastest, and most cost-effective way to solve this problem is to tell the feds they're on their own when it comes to enforcing ill-considered federal immigration policies.

Compared to most folks contributing to this site, I'm a policy rookie, but here's an event that has statewide implications.

Here in Wilmington, the state run Alcohol Beverage Control has a retail store and distribution center on 17th St. between Castle and Church Streets.  This is a lower income area most out-of-towners only know as they drive through the Oleander St. corridor on the way to the beach.

Earlier this year, our local ABC board (three seated individuals and a supervisor) quietly started buying up the entire block around their facility to the ultimate tab of over $2,400,000.00, a figure the board members themselves contend is twice market value at the time (and probably more now).  On the physical block were three zoned commercial structures and ten single family homes dating from the early 20th century, examples of what Preservation North Carolina calls "vernacular housing".  These houses are currently zoned residential. 

 Historic Wilmington Foundation and others have been pursuing a Historic District designation for this neighborhood for over two years, and that designation is near becoming a reality.  While the structures in the area are not mansions nor public 19th century monuments, they do represent 80 to 100 year old houses from a previous era that are a contributing part of the historic fabric. As many of the larger building in our area have been preserved (and some tragically levelled), we are now looking to expand the scope of preservation to the more simple participating structures.

 Earlier in the summer, the ABC Board applied for demolition permits to level all thirteen existing buildings despite the current residential zoning. Their intent was to create a larger distribution facility and parking on the land.  No attempt was made to contact the citizens in the area, elected officials, or the like regarding this impactful "growth".  In addition, the ABC allowed the purchased properties to remain open and unsecured to invite vandalism and theft, thereby pursuing their projected demolition by neglect, I suppose their thinking being that they would get permits faster if the dwellings were dilapidated.

Historic Wilmington and others made multiple gestures to the ABC Board in attempts to save the houses. None was heeded.  When a request was made for design plans and ideas for the new ABC structures, none was forthcoming.  When the question of nondisclosed use of public tax payer generated moneys was brought up, the ABC stated that they are exempt from any disclosure as they are an income generating entity outside general transparency guidlines.

Within the last two weeks, all structures on the physical block have been destroyed.  They are gone.  A few days later, the ABC Board pulled their permit request to rezone the block from residential to commercial due many folks think to public outcry and a very pointed Wilmington Star-News Op-ed piece blasting the ABC Board members by name.  The board did not, however, pull the request until after all the houses were eviscerated.

While the houses are gone, this incident has been a rallying issue for downtown Wilmington.  Lawn signs saying Stop the Expansion! dot the nearby neighborhood and adjoining areas as well. 

We can't save these buildings, but we can raise the bar on what is and what is not acceptable conduct by appointed officials, elected officials, and developers.  Preservationists and builders can work together to avoid runaway growth in older neighborhoods.  I have no interest in seeing Wilmington have Myrtle Beach type high rises where older building once stood.  Our town has numerous talented architectural and design professionals who are on board with responsible growth, infill, and rehab.  Let's us them.

Figure 8 Island, backed by the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) and its N.C. member group with a slightly different name, is busy promoting a terminal groin on Figure 8 Island to save a dozen buildings. The marine science community of North Carolina  strongly disagrees with the claims made to promote the structure because it will damage (increase erosion rates) adjacent beaches and will be the first retreat from North Carolina's laws that prohibit hard stabilization on our beaches.  North Carolina’s “anti-seawall” law has put this state in better shape to respond to sea level rise than any other coastal state.

Promoters argue that the terminal groin will not create problems, which is not true. The very phrase “terminal groin” is a lie of Baron Munchausen proportions!  It was a term first used incorrectly at Oregon Inlet to avoid the inflammatory word "jetty" after a long nationally- prominent societal battle over jetty construction.  After 25 years' worth of evidence had accumulated indicating that building a jetty at Oregon Inlet wouldn’t work, the state said, “We're not building a jetty – we're building a terminal groin.”  And just as predicted, the 3000-foot Oregon Inlet jetty has created immense and very costly erosion problems.

Everything about the Figure 8 terminal groin seems disingenuous, from its name, to the claims of how the structure will work, and even to the technical literature claimed to support the structure, which is basically non-existent.  Perhaps the ASBPA should be called the American Shorefront Building Preservation Association and Pinocchio could be the organization’s mascot.

As I mulled over the defeat of common sense this week (smoking ban bill defeated 61 to 55) I was having trouble getting in touch with the better angels of my nature.  How the hell do you make progress within a political system that is owned and operated by corporate special interests (big tobacco, in this case)?   I then came upon a fascinating  and relevant article that is a variation on whether the ends justify the means.  See if you agree:

“If you are chiefly interested in the consequences, then you are not chiefly interested in the ideas. The netroots, like most of the conservative movement, is interested in the consequences, not the ideas.  The battle is being joined at last.”   ~ Jonathan Chait

If you are reading this blog you owe it to yourself to read the cover story in The New Republic by Jonathan Chait “The Left’s New Machine: How the netroots became the most important mass movement in U.S. politics.”  Be forewarned, this is not a sympathetic look at the contribution of the Internet to public debate.

In essence, Chait mourns the demise of intellectual debate and civility.  In his interpretation, the “netroots” (exemplified by DailyKos, Atrios, MyDD) uses a take-no-prisoners approach to combat the ever-present right wing message machine (i.e. talk radio, Drudge Report, right wing think tanks such as Heritage Foundation, AEI, and daresay our own John Locke Foundation).  Chait is not amused that some progressives have engaged the right in this manner:

“Liberalism is indeed undergoing a reformation.  At the end of this reformation, what will the left look like? It will look a lot like the Republican machine that prevailed in Florida (Bush v Gore 2000). It will be nastier and more ruthless, and less concerned with intellectual or procedural niceties.”

I believe Chait’s error is in presuming this transformation among progressives is an “either/or” choice.  Why can’t intellectual elites and take-no-prisoners activists coexist?  Of what use is a political idea if it has no consequence?  In truth, the two need one another if either is going to be relevant to the political process.

Jonathan Chait would say that a group like NC Policy Watch is part of the “wonkosphere,” they advocate for progressive policies but do not directly involve themselves in politics.  Go here to see their ambitious agenda.  Chait’s “netroots,” on the other hand, would be like our friends at BlueNC.  They are unapologetically political, and advocate for causes and candidates which will shift the Democratic Party to the left.  And if you don’t think the so-called “centrist” position has drifted to the right since the rise of conservatism, consider this:  Recently elected Democrat Heath Shuler (NC 11) may be to the right of Richard Nixon.  (Disclaimer: let me say that I am only a guest blogger here at The Progressive Pulse and, much like the US Attorneys, I serve at the pleasure of my friend, NC Policy Watch Director Chris Fitzsimon.  I have no association with NC Policy Watch or their parent organization the AJ Fletcher Foundation; BlueNC; or any other group that, as Groucho Marx said, would have me as a member.  The opinions expressed are my own.)

Chait has no reason to despair.  Playing hardball doesn’t have to mean playing dirty.  After all, economic fairness and social justice are on our side.  The “netroots” can help identify and elect candidates that the “wonkosphere” can embrace.  The progressive groups will need to work together to overcome the special interests which currently dominate North Carolina and national politics.  With luck, by the next election cycle North Carolina can pass not only the smoking ban, but progressive policies on health, education, and housing.