News

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.

News, Trump Administration

Public comments still being accepted on Trump proposal that would leave 55,000 citizens without a home

On May 10, 2019, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development published a proposed rule affecting “mixed-status families” in public housing.

“Mixed-status families” are those with members eligible for public assistance and ineligible based on their immigration status. The current rule states that these families are permitted to live in public housing, but the ineligible family members would have to “pay their own way,” out-of-pocket, and would not receive personal federal assistance.

Crucially, not every immigrant who is ineligible for public housing is necessarily undocumented. Immigrants can have legal status and still be ineligible for public housing.

As we reported earlier, the new HUD rule states that every member of a family would have to be eligible in order to live in public housing.

According to data from HUD, an estimated 25,000 families would be forced to make the choice between breaking up their family and becoming homeless. It is estimated that 55,000 U.S. citizen children around the country would lose their subsidized housing as a result of this rule.

The rule would also require residents under 62 years of age to have their immigration status verified through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements or SAVE Program. Families with members judged to be ineligible through this program would be evicted from their housing within 18 months.

The proposed rule is not yet in effect. It is open for public comment until tomorrow, July 9. HUD is accepting comments here.

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Democracy NC students lobby legislature for change: ‘We care about the right to vote’

College students working as part of the students’ Democracy Summer internship program with voting rights group Democracy North Carolina launched a “For The People” Campaign on Wednesday to call for pro-democracy reforms. (Photo by Aditi Kharod)

 

On Wednesday morning, a group of summer interns with Democracy NC gathered in front of the legislative building to roll out their “For the People” campaign.

The students encouraged North Carolina citizens to contact their lawmakers in support of a variety of pro-democracy reforms, including flexible early voting, nonpartisan redistricting, and increasing access to voting.

The group specifically called for the repeal of Senate Bill 325, passed in June of 2018, which limits early voting site hours.

“We know that if Early Voting flexibility and access isn’t restored now, alongside the removal of the new strict photo ID requirement to vote, it could mean a ‘recipe for disaster’ for North Carolina voters like me in 2020,” said Gaby Romero, a student at Appalachian State University in Boone. “For voters in rural western North Carolina — from all parties — these attacks shut them out of the most important form of participation in a democracy.”

The college students shared stories from their campuses about how gerrymandering and limits to voting access have hurt young voters, and laid out a multi-part agenda with the goal of lobbying lawmakers to use current proposals to prevent confusion and chaos for voters ahead of next year’s elections.

“We’re here to say that we care about our rights. That we care about the right to vote,” said Tyler Walker, an activist who works with Democracy NC in Winston-Salem. “Any barrier to voting is a threat to your personal freedoms. Any barrier to voting is a threat to you directly. It is a threat to your civil rights. It is a threat to your human rights. It is a threat to your ability to exercise your right to vote, to exercise the freedoms you believe in. It is a threat. And I’m here to tell the legislature today that we will not be threatened.”

Commentary, immigration, News

Senate committees vote to move ICE bill forward despite serious concerns from lawmakers, residents

The Senate Rules committee voted Thursday to move House Bill 370 forward.

The controversial bill would require sheriffs to comply with detainer requests made by the federal Department of Homeland Security, as well as notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if any person arrested for any criminal charge is not a citizen.

The bill targets 7 newly-elected Democratic sheriffs

Senator Chuck Edwards (R-Buncombe) has touted the bill as necessary for “national security and public safety” and as a common sense measure that the majority of sheriffs are already implementing, but Sheriff Garry McFadden of Mecklenburg County pushed back against that idea at a press conference Wednesday held by Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) before the committee meeting.

“HB 370 is not about community safety,” said McFadden. “It’s about stopping sheriffs.” Read more

Commentary, News

Election security in state officials’ hands in light of statements by Trump, Tillis

"Vote" pin

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The North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE) met Thursday to, among other things, consider certification of new voting systems. Before the board’s discussion, a few members of the public presented prepared statements. The first came from Lynn Bernstein, a North Carolina voter, who spoke about the extreme risk to election security posed by electronic voting machines, especially those created by Election Systems and Software.

Election Systems and Software (ES&S), the nation’s top voting machine maker and one of the companies whose machines the NC SBE plans to certify, admitted in a letter to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) in April of 2018 that it had installed the remote-access software pcAnywhere on a number of election systems that it had sold. This admission was in direct contrast to a previous statement ES&S made in February of that year, in which the company stated that none of its voting systems had ever been sold with any remote-access software on them.

“Remote-access software and modems on election equipment is the worst decision for security short of leaving ballot boxes on a Moscow street corner,” said Bernstein, quoting a statement Sen. Wyden made to Motherboard. Bernstein argued that a company that had repeatedly lied about the nature of its machines and had only revealed the truth after being caught in its lies could not be trusted to help keep North Carolina’s elections safe.

“This begs the question: why is this board trusting ES&S’ word that these machines are secure and accurate?” asked Bernstein.

Bob Cordle, the chair of the SBE, pushed back against Bernstein’s arguments.

“In my experience… we had more problems with hand ballots than we did with any other ballots,” said Cordle. “There was more lying, cheating, and stealing going on… and also questions about… there were lots of questions about whether the oval was filled in, whether both ovals were filled in, so there are problems with hand ballots, too.”

“The research showed that 0.007% of ballots have stray marks,” said Bernstein. “That’s very, very few.” Read more