This week, Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger and Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle signed a letter along with other mayors in North Carolina to condemn the recent immigration raids that have happened across the state.
"We cannot stop (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) from operating in our cities, but we can and must speak out against these raids which destabilize neighborhoods, traumatize children, hurt many innocent people and create distrust of law enforcement," the letter said.
Approximately 200 people were arrested in North Carolina last week, according to ICE Atlanta Field Office Director Sean Gallagher in a Feb. 8 press conference.
Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said the raids have hurt the community.
"We've had businesses concerned for folks in general, because it scares everyone away," she said. "You have people not going to work or people not taking kids to school."
Hemminger said the local authorities have not been alerted of the operations before they happen as ICE operates under the Department of Homeland Security, which is a branch of federal government.
Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesperson, said in an email that local partners have refused to cooperate with ICE, forcing agents to adopt a "more-visible presence" in the state.
"ICE has repeatedly stated publicly this agency desires to work with its local partners to whatever extent they are willing to work with this agency," he said. "But ICE is sworn to enforce federal immigration law and will do so with or without local cooperation."
Despite not being involved, Hemminger said the towns are not opposed to cooperation with the agents and other towns.
“If they're looking for someone in particular who's committed a felony, we would cooperate with that,” she said.
Hemminger also said the Town of Chapel Hill does not keep records of immigration into Chapel Hill, so they are not able to cooperate with ICE agents to provide information they may be seeking.
Cox said the recent action is consistent with ICE's mission.
"ICE conducts targeted immigration arrests each day as part of its ongoing mission to enforce federal immigration law, and we have multiple offices throughout the state, so the agency’s presence in North Carolina is not new," he said in an email.
William Saenz, communications coordinator at El Pueblo, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit with a focus in immigration advocacy, said while there has been some criticism of immigration raids at a state level, it has been insufficient overall.
Some members of the U.S. House of Representatives, such as David Price, D-N.C., and G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., issued statements in opposition to the Durham ICE raids of November 2018.
“Unfortunately North Carolina is still a very anti-immigrant state, in terms of the representatives of the General Assembly," Saenz said.
Saenz said the raids have lead to the separation of families, as it is the parents who are usually deported. Hemminger said there is no framework officially in place to provide support to children who have been separated from their families.
While children of detained individuals will often fall under the responsibility of a neighbor or a family member, Hemminger said sometimes even people within the community will be reluctant to look after the child if they are also in danger of being detained.
When these raids happen, Hemminger said the Town works directly with El Centro Hispano, an organization that works with the Latinx community in the Triangle, to quickly find someone who can make sure that children are looked after if their family members are detained.
“Luckily, we have a good social services network in our community, through the county, and then we have a crisis network through our police department and we have El Centro,” she said.
Hemminger said while it's hard for people in the community to witness ICE raids, she and groups such as El Centro are working to get information out about local immigration operations.
"The mayors are trying to get together to raise our voices back to this state legislature and to the federal government to say, 'Stop this,'" she said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.