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Advocates for sanctuary cities say refugees, families are afraid and confused

A refugee from Thailand (left) speaks with organizer Flicka Bateman (right) about papers while a translator (center) looks on.
A refugee from Thailand (left) speaks with organizer Flicka Bateman (right) about papers while a translator (center) looks on.

Madison Hayes, executive director at the Refugee Community Partnership in Carrboro, said the current political climate has certainly affected refugees’ experiences with acclimating themselves into the area.

“A lot of families are confused about what the repercussions will be in light of executive orders,” she said.

Flicka Bateman, director of the Refugee Support Center in Carrboro, said close to 1,200 refugees live in Orange County — 1,100 from Burma, 32 from Syria and about 50 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Bateman said recent policies, such as Trump’s executive order banning individuals from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia from entering the U.S. for 90 days, have scared refugees. She cited a refugee who came to the center Monday as an example.

“She’s worked at UNC probably five years,” Bateman said. “In other words, she is acclimated, she speaks English, she can drive and she says, ‘I understand that we might get sent back; is that true?’”

At the same time, Bateman said refugees’ worries extend beyond the political climate. She said immigrants face language barriers, cultural differences, economic challenges and transportation nuances — no matter who holds office.

Many refugees in Chapel Hill and Carrboro declined to speak with The Daily Tar Heel. Bateman said refugees’ fear goes beyond their lack of willingness to speak up.

“It’s much more than just not having an interview,” she said. “I think the climate is such that people want to lay low. I think people don’t want to call attention to themselves, and I think that they’re probably a little more careful of where they choose to go.”

Both Hayes and Bateman emphasized refugees’ importance to the community.

“Refugee communities are brimming with resilience,” Hayes said. “We have a great deal to learn from them, and now is a critical time for it.”

Defining sanctuary

Trump said he wished to make changes to policies regarding illegal immigration, specifically those involving sanctuary cities, in an executive order signed Jan. 25.

The statement said sanctuary cities violate federal law and have caused immeasurable harm to the American people.

The term ‘sanctuary city’ is broad and refers to how local governments address directions from the federal government regarding immigration, said Alice Glover, an immigration attorney in Chapel Hill.

“I think it really relates to what local governments say they will or won’t do in terms of following the various edicts that come down from the executive orders; so whether or not they will extend the law enforcement to essentially make them junior immigration officers,” she said.

Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, said Trump has proposed cutting funding for police departments that do not comply with immigration policy and reintroducing the Secure Communities program, suspended in 2014, that broadens the circumstances under which the federal government can issue a detainer request to assume custody of an arrested undocumented immigrant.

Because sanctuary cities allow undocumented immigrants to work without as much harassment by local police, they have a positive effect on the economy, Nowrasteh said. Trump’s policies would have the opposite effect, decreasing both supply and demand in the U.S. economy and diminishing jobs for Americans.

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Ron Woodard, the director of NC Listen, said he agrees with Trump’s decision to cut off funds to police departments in sanctuary cities.

“It’s not just about sanctuary cities,” he said. “It’s about the rule of law. We can’t have cities going around giving the finger, in essence, to the federal government every time they don’t like a particular law. It’s not the way to run a country.”

Chapel Hill attorney Lisa Brenman said any new sanctuary city legislation passed by the Trump administration most likely will not affect Chapel Hill and Carrboro because sanctuary cities in North Carolina were previously banned by House Bill 318, passed in October 2015.

Threats to community

Ethan Beattie, an immigration attorney at Beattie Law Firm, PLLC in Durham, said Trump’s executive order would affect the immigrant community more than the sanctuary cities.

“It’s more of a threat I think — this is just my opinion — to pit the citizenry against the undocumented community,” he said. “By saying, ‘Hey, we’ll take away your dollars because of what these people are doing,’ kind of dividing communities that way.”

Beattie also said Trump’s method of deportation would prove to be an intensely difficult and expensive endeavor.

“Under Obama, you had a system of priorities of who was going to be deported if they were caught ... ” he said. “First priority was ‘Let’s get rid of the criminals,’ second priority fell down to the lesser. If you go to prison and don’t fall into one of those priorities, they’ll probably just leave you alone.”

Trump’s approach in his executive order is less particular about who is chosen for deportation. Beattie said anyone who is undocumented will be lumped into one group.

“Priority being, ‘If you’re undocumented, we’re going to get rid of you,’ so the guy taking his kid to school is just as suspect as the guy that’s running a kilo of cocaine across the Canadian border,” he said.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said she seeks to protect refugees as a “sanctuary city-like” town, despite state laws and executive orders against it.

“We are doing our best to comply with what we have to comply with, but not at the expense of our values,” she said.