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Charlotte Area

How Charlotte's Latino Groups Are Organizing Against ICE

Nick de la Canal
Jose Hernandez-Paris (center) speaks at an advocacy workshop at Charlotte's Latin American Coalition on Saturday. Hernandez-Paris is the coalition's executive director.

It was just before 7 a.m. last Wednesday, the skies were still dark, and Stefania Arteaga was in her car, driving fast through east Charlotte.

"We have been getting reports that ICE is here on Sharon Amity," she told a Facebook live audience from behind the wheel of her car.

Arteaga, with the activist group Comunidad Colectiva, had been tipped off by a person who called a hotline the group set up to report ICE activity. Within minutes, she was rolling into a parking lot where ICE agents had handcuffed a man and were ushering him into a blue van.

She unfastened her seatbelt, lept from the car and with her phone recording, shouted legal advice to the man surrounded by ICE agents.

"You have the right to remain silent. You don't have to talk to ICE," she shouted in Spanish. "Ask for an attorney!"

As the handcuffed man disappeared into the van, Arteaga began narrating the scene in real time, noting that the vehicles ICE agents were driving were not marked, and had Georgia and Texas license plates - and non-government plates at that.

The livestream took off. It garnered hundreds of reactions and was shared more than 2,000 times on Facebook. Over the next two hours, Arteaga repeated the exercise at two other locations, with similar results.

By late morning, Arteaga and others with Comunidad Colectiva had alerted nearly the entire city that ICE was carrying out arrests in a number of areas, thanks in large part to tips that came in from the ICE hotline, which was also widely shared on social media.

As it turned out, however, Wednesday's arrests were just a sliver of the 200 arrests ICE said it made across North Carolina last week. Most of those arrested had criminal charges or convictions, according to ICE, and a third were not targeted, but were simply in the "wrong place at the wrong time," as an ICE field director later put it. The agency has vowed to continue increasing its presence after several North Carolina counties stopped allowing ICE to access county jails.

Related Content: ICE Arrests 200 Statewide; Says Field Arrests Are 'New Normal'

In response, other advocacy groups around the state have scrambled to provide legal and material aid to affected families. Two groups in central North Carolina have launched a legal defense fund, and in Charlotte, the Latin American Coalition has been organizing volunteers and connecting with local aid groups to help families left behind.

Credit Nick de la Canal / WFAE
The Latin American Coalition has announced plans to launch a "Family Defense Network" that will connect immigrant families affected by ICE arrests with community organizations that help provide legal and material aid.

Over the weekend, some two dozen people attended a workshop at the Latin American Coalition to get started on a number of outreach initiatives. Yisel Pomier Maren is the coalition's director of advocacy.

"We have a lot of people calling into the Latin American Coalition for support, trying to connect with legal representation and help," she said.

The coalition launched its own hotline last Wednesday for families that need help finding where ICE transported their family members or friends, and get connected to legal aid. The coalition's executive director, Jose Hernandez Paris, says they're also looking at creating a food bank, and forming support groups for families who've had a member detained.

"One of the cases, for example, is a mom with a child with special needs whose husband got deported, and he still wants us providing for the family," he said. "Now she doesn't know what to do. So she just realized she has to pay rent. She just realized she has to eat. Her children have to eat. And she doesn't know what to do next."

This is all relatively new territory for the coalition, which was founded nearly 30 years ago as a cultural group, but has found itself shifting toward advocacy work in recent years. Pomier Maren says it's a necessary shift because the immigrant community is becoming ever more withdrawn as ICE increases its presence.

"I have people that I know that are undocumented say, 'I'm not going to work.'" she said, "because, you know, you can miss a week of work, or you can be deported or separated from your family forever. And it's a reality. It's a reality."

In addition to the coalition's outreach initiatives, leaders say they're planning an immigrant march sometime in the coming weeks.