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Picture this, as Golden Girls’ Sophia Petrillo used to say. Alamance County. May 2010. A Latina driver is stopped by a sheriff’s deputy. She provides her valid North Carolina driver’s license as commanded, but the deputy refuses to accept her license without any real justification. Then he threatens to take her to jail and deport her, even though she has all the proper documentation. She panics.
Unfortunately, this story, unlike the lovable ’80s sitcom, was not a TV show. It was one among the long list of complaints leveled against the infamous Sheriff Terry Johnson from Alamance County by the Department of Justice in 2012.
Sadly, the Republican Party in our General Assembly seems to believe that the kind of behavior mentioned above should be imitated all around our beloved state. The Republican-controlled Senate approved the discriminatory SB101 a few weeks ago, and it looks like the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will soon follow. This bill would force every sheriff’s department in North Carolina to verify the immigration status of anybody detained even if it is a minor infraction. We know who those Republican politicians are really targeting — people like me, like my three children who happen to be Latinos.
Regrettably, these Republican politicians love to demonize a whole community to satisfy the irrational hatred of a few. They clearly know that we Latinos have a great work ethic. They truly know that we wake up every day ready to provide for our families and to benefit our society. They surely know that some of us work in construction, some in medicine, some in engineering, others in education. They must know we have contributed greatly to our state and to our country. However, it looks like they want the good people of North Carolina to see us as the “others,” as those who do not belong here.
You, dear reader, know who will be asked to show proof of their immigration status. It will not be the blond, blue-eyed Thom. No, siree. It will not be the fair, red-haired Phil. It will be brown people. It will be somebody who speaks with a non-native American accent or who dares to speak Spanish. Those Republican politicians in Raleigh will deny this with poker faces. But they know the real consequences because they are smart; they just simply don’t care.
Besides racial profiling, this bill would seed distrust between the Latino community and our law enforcement agencies. Latinos would hesitate to call 911 or cooperate with the police or sheriff’s departments if they believe some of their relatives or friends may be detained and even deported for reporting a crime.
Take the case of a child who is a witness of domestic abuse. She may decide not to call the police out of fear that her mother could be arrested and deported, even though she is the victim. Dear reader, put yourself in the child’s shoes, and ask yourself, “What would I do?”
Another reason to oppose this ill-conceived bill is the waste of our local resources to enforce it. Our sheriff’s department’s resources are limited. Is it wise to spend a lot of manpower, time and money to comply with a law that would not make anybody safer and would distract them from their real duties? No.
I believe most of the sheriffs in our state are honorable and are concerned with the well-being and safety of all of their residents. Our county is honored to have a man like Mike Roberson as our sheriff. He has proven fair and just. He has built a great relationship with our Hispanic community, and I’m confident he wants to keep it that way.
However, some sheriffs in our state are not as honorable as ours in Chatham. Among those, one has never shied away from showing his disdain toward Latinos: Terry Johnson in Alamance County. Do we want to give him (or someone like him) the power to detain any Hispanic he wants? In 2012, the Department of Justice filed a complaint against Johnson, alleging that he had repeatedly shown his aversion to us by instructing his deputies to “go out there and get me some of those taco eaters.” Though the government lost that lawsuit, three former officers of the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office testified that Johnson told them to arrest Latino drivers for traffic violations rather than write them citations. This SB101 would give him carte blanche to do as he pleases. That is wrong.
Dear Chathamites, I implore you to speak out against this bill, which will target your neighbors and friends, which will target me and my family for the sin of being born with a different skin color. I believe you will join us because you have shown me how compassionate, caring and humane you are. I can picture that.
Alirio Estevez is a Latino activist and member of Voto Latino Chatham.