CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Federal agents threatened a Charlotte city councilman with arrest Friday as Immigration and Customs Enforcement discussed a series of immigration arrests around Charlotte and across the state this week.
The Atlanta field officer who oversees the Southeast traveled to the Queen City for a rare news conference.
ICE officials said Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden is putting politics over public safety by eliminating 287(g), a federal program that allows sheriffs to run undocumented immigrants' names through a database and notify ICE.
Councilman Braxton Winston, who is also known as an activist, was attempting to enter the Department of Homeland Security office to talk to the director. The government building is public.
Winston was told he could not enter, and after he refused to leave, he was threatened with arrest.
Political reporter Joe Bruno recorded the confrontation on his cellphone and later tweeted it.
Winston eventually was able to meet with the assistant director, and the officer apologized to Winston.
The councilman said it was frustrating and he was angry because all he wanted to do was establish a line of communication with the agency.
ICE officials said 200 people were arrested in North Carolina over the past few days.
While some leaders said they are upset about the arrests, ICE said they only target those who belong behind bars.
They said of the 200 people recently arrested, 60 were discovered during the targeted enforcement. ICE agents weren’t looking for them.
ICE RECENT ARRESTS:
- 50 had a criminal conviction
- 40 had pending charges
- 50 were ICE fugitives
- 60 were discovered by officers looking for other people
The agency said last year, 91 percent of their arrests were undocumented immigrants with pending criminal charges or a prior conviction.
An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 undocumented immigrants live in the Charlotte region, officials said.
However, an investigation by The Washington Post found that arrests of noncriminals have doubled since 2017.
The director of ICE, Sean Gallagher, said McFadden is partly to blame for the increased enforcement and warned the public would see a more visible presence in Mecklenburg County after the 287(g) program ended.
ICE officials said McFadden released a gang member who shot someone with an AK-47 and was charged with assault with intent to kill.
McFadden pushed back that his policies are to blame.
“For ICE representative Sean Gallagher to suggest that dangerous people are suddenly walking out of jail because of the termination of the 287(g) policy is engaging in cynical fearmongering"
Gallagher said even if you are not a target, if you are in the country illegally and ICE comes across you during the targeted enforcement, officers will not turn a blind eye.
"If they are unfortunately at the wrong place at the wrong time, and they are illegally in this country, my officers will in most cases take action," Gallagher said.
There is fear in the Hispanic community, an activist said.
“People are not going to work,” activist Jessica Maria Moreno said. “People are not taking their kids to school. Small businesses are suffering because people aren't going to shop anymore.”
Businesses like Manolo's Bakery said they are seeing an economic impact. The owner said he is seeing a major decrease in business because people are afraid to be out in the community.
“Fear is the biggest issue right now,” owner Manolo Betancur said.
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