CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was a packed house as hundreds of Spanish-speaking families rallied together with their trust in law enforcement fading.
Organizers said more than 700 people came to Lirio De Los Valles church in west Charlotte, looking to build trust and also to find ways to work together with the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office after a recent increase in ICE activity.
"Whether it is intended or not, people are becoming intimidated," Father Hugo Medellin said.
Community leaders asked the sheriff specific questions, in Spanish, that they wanted him to clarify such as "are you collaborating with ICE" and "have you ended the 287(g) program completely."
Pastor Mario Guzman said he asked the sheriff why he ended it.
"He said he was getting a lot of pain seeing how many families it was hurting. Nothing was political, it was more political, family," Guzman said.
In a news release this month, the sheriff's office said there are significant areas where they have always and will continue to operate with ICE. This includes sharing fingerprints from people arrested by ICE so ICE can monitor databases.
They also honor ICE criminal warrants signed by a judge.
On Monday, community members said they embraced the sheriff, his willingness to work with them, and his promise to protect them.
Sheriff Gary McFadden said he plans to start a new community engagement unit.
Channel 9 reached out ot ICE about the recent arrests. A spokesperson said in an email, they have arrested 270 people in North Carolina in the first week of February alone. The spokesperson said Mecklenburg had more arrests than any area in North Carolina.
"This is largely due to the new county policy of no longer cooperating with ICE and instead releasing criminal offenders back into the community, which leaves ICE no choice but to increase its presence in the community to make these arrests itself.
Prior to the local policy change, the majority of ICE’s activity took place at the county jail and was limited to persons already in custody on local criminal charges."
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