Racism is in the coffee in Alamance, NC
Its an unusually chilly morning in August, I've just arrived at a cafe neighboring the Alamance County Court House in Graham, NC. When I was in Greensboro a few days ago, I met Laura Garduño Garcia, an organizer, who recently supported a large group of students in protesting the potential re-joining of the 287(g) program in Alamance County. Made into law in 1996, the 287(g) program allows states and local law enforcement to enter into a formal contract with Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), and allows ICE to delegate much of its powers to state and local jurisdictions, therefore allowing local officers to be indistinguishable from federal immigration authorities. After years of decline, these relationships have increased under the Trump Administration. Alamance was one of the dozens of jurisdictions that participants in the 287(g) program. According to the ACLU, in 2012 Department of Justice filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson. "Following a two-year investigation and interviews with more than 100 witnesses, the department found widespread evidence that the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office was systematically and unlawfully targeting Latino residents for investigation, traffic stops, arrests, seizures, and other enforcement actions" (ACLU). Individual sheriff’s deputies were found to be stopping Latinos 4 to 10 times more often than other motorists.
Although it has not been confirmed if the country has submitted an application to rejoin, Sheriff Johnson remains in power and has expressed interest. “He’s been articulating for quite some time that he thinks that he needs access to the ICE civil database to verify the identity of people coming into the jail,” Galey said in an interview with WUNC, adding that it would allow the sheriff’s department to be reimbursed for detaining immigrants on behalf of ICE," (County Commission Chair Amy Galey, WUNC). According to WUNC, in North Carolina, it is a misdemeanor to drive without ever having obtained a driver’s license, and undocumented immigrants are not permitted to get a license here. So any undocumented person who drives to work, school or the grocery store may feel they are at a heightened risk of being deported under 287(g) if they were arrested for driving without a license.
Other recent news in Alamance that I learned about what that charges were dropped for the 12 people in Alamance County who faced prison time for voting in the 2016 presidential election while on probation from a felony sentence. A 2016 report found that 441 voters appeared to have been serving active felony sentences on Election Day – many of them on probation. Although voting while on probation is illegal in North Carolina, only a few counties actually charged people with fraud. Many of those who voted had no idea they were restricted, thinking they had the right to vote. One man charged said he belived it was to risky to ever vote again.
My awareness of these racist and unjust justice practices is heightened as I sit outside of this surprisingly hip cafe. The barista comments that I look like I'm from New York City as she sets down my cappuccino- clearly I don't look like I'm from here. Across the street, WRIKE DRUGS in light-up-white sits against a blue asymmetrical sign still attached to the brick facade. The buildings on Main are one or two stories, each with their own distinct decorative awnings and windows. The stone courthouse sits in the center of a roundabout, capping the street with four Ionic columns. At the front of the courthouse, facing north. is a statue of a Confederate soldier at parade rest ( I had no idea what his position was called, I had to look this up), and inscribed below was a commemoration of the 1,100 soldiers from Alamance who fought in the Confederacy.
Alamance might be unfamiliar to me, but it's politics and policing are not unlike the dozens of jurisdictions across the country who still honor the Confederacy, or prioritize deportations, or both. It's my hyper-awareness of these unjust policies, the seemingly peaceful Main Street American landscape, dotted with boxes of small pink flowers, the constant urge to ask the against the family of four enjoying crapes next to me how they could possibly stand for this, that makes sitting here all the more revolting.