Local News

Alamance County residents spar over illegal immigration

Posted August 18, 2008 11:59 p.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2008 12:34 a.m. EDT

— Tempers flared Monday evening before the Alamance County Board of Commissioners over illegal immigration. Some people say that enforcing the law is tearing families apart, while others say law enforcement officers are just doing their jobs.

People speaking in support of their undocumented neighbors told stories of men and women being deported after being stopped for minor crimes.

"A large segment of this community is now afraid," a Latino person told the commissioners.

"Families are being torn apart," another person told the crowd.

Others spoke in favor of law enforcement efforts. Their stories were of crimes committed by people who are illegally in the country.

"My wife gets a letter. There are two individuals in this country illegally using her Social Security number,” a person told the crowd.

In the middle of the debate was Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson.

"This is absurd and goes against the very moral fiber our country was founded upon,” he said of illegal immigration.

The sheriff said he is unapologetic for enforcing immigration laws and for using the so-called Section 287(g) program. That initiative by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency trains local authorities to quickly identify inmates in county jails who are in the country illegally and to handle the paperwork needed to begin deportation proceedings.

An Alamance County librarian was recently arrested and later pleaded guilty to misuse of a Social Security number.

Last month, an Alamance County deputy arrested a Hispanic woman after a traffic stop on Interstate 85, leaving her three children in a car along the highway. Their father picked them up eight hours later.

Authorities said the woman, who identified herself as Maria Chavira Ventura, spoke limited English and was driving with expired tags and without any form of identification, registration or proof of insurance. She gave the deputy an address in Burlington and said someone could pick up the children, authorities said.

Ventura, whose real name is Maria Perez-Mejia, actually was traveling from her home in western North Carolina to Maryland to visit the children's father when she was stopped. A man from her church who was traveling with the family left the children shortly after the deputy took their mother off to jail.

Perez-Mejia is in the process of being deported. Her three children remain with relatives in the U.S.

The incidents have pit county leaders against one another, with a public exchange during Monday's meeting between Johnson and County Commissioner Larry Sharpe.

"You have gotten people stirred up by saying the sheriff's office profiles," Johnson said to Sharpe.

"I don't know if you do or not sheriff. Because you telling me you don't, I don't know that is true," Sharpe responded.

Allegations have also surfaced that Alamance County Department of Health employees have provided illegal aliens with work papers under assumed names. An probe by three investigating agencies, including the State Bureau of Investigation, reported Monday that no violations were discovered. A memo also pointed to a lack of direction on how to deal with undocumented people.

No decisions regarding how to handle illegal immigration in Alamance County were reached Monday evening.