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Local communities push back against inhumane immigration policies

Speakers at the Lights for Liberty vigil in Raleigh. (Photo by Aditi Kharod)

Community interest in issues of immigrant justice has exploded recently in response to reports of horrific conditions at detention camps at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“We here at El Pueblo have seen, definitely, a surge in interest,” Moisés Serrano, the political director of El Pueblo, told me before he spoke at this week’s “Tuesdays with Tillis” protest.

This surge in interest was apparent with the recent proliferation of immigrant justice events.

On Friday, there were a series of Lights for Liberty vigils held around the world to protest inhumane conditions at the detention camps at the border. Over 700 cities participated in these vigils, 21 North Carolina cities among them.

On Sunday, the Judea Reform Congregation of Durham held an event describing a recent expedition by congregation members to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. This facility is the place where most undocumented immigrants who are picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in North Carolina are sent. Operated by CoreCivic, the second-largest private corrections company in the United States, Stewart is one of the harshest immigrant detention centers in the country, with a deportation rate of 98%.

One of the congregation members, Randy Chambers, told a story of an Indian man detained at Stewart who, at court proceedings, was asked by a judge if he wanted to be deported.

“‘Yes,’” the man said, according to Chambers. “‘Please,’ as though he were saying, ‘Get me out of this hellhole.’”

Some members of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh will be making a similar journey to the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center in Staunton, Virginia on July 27.

The theme of this week’s Tuesdays with Tillis protest was immigration, as it was two weeks ago and will be every two weeks for the foreseeable future, organizer Karen Ziegler announced.

“We know that Senator Thom Tillis has introduced legislation to sue sanctuary cities, right?” said Serrano to boos from the crowd.

Serrano was referring to the Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act, which Tillis introduced with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) on July 9.

The legislation would, according to a press release from Tillis’ office, create “a private right of civil action” for victims of crimes committed by “an illegal immigrant.”

“We are not the enemy. Immigrants have never been the enemy,” said Serrano on Tuesday.

“It’s much easier to demonize and criminalize black and brown people than the white men who are shooting us.”

Also getting backlash was the new rule published by the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and Justice on Monday, which would deem asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border ineligible for asylum if they had not applied for asylum in another country first. The policy went into effect on Tuesday.

Serrano said that he is heartened by the national attention these issues are receiving, but that there are smaller, equally important actions that community members can take locally.

“It is really important to focus on detention centers and the camps at the border, but there’s also a lot of work that we can do at a state level, like trying to defeat anti-immigrant bills at the North Carolina General Assembly, passing drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants, and in-state tuition for undocumented students.”

Aditi Kharod is a student at UNC Chapel Hill and an intern at NC Policy Watch.

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