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What ‘immigration enforcement’ looks like in North Carolina

Pulled over 13 times in one month at an immigration checkpoint

By staff |
February 15, 2013
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Bobby Sullivan
Bobby Sullivan

For several years, immigrant rights activists have said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is systematically carrying out mass deportations of immigrants who have done nothing wrong, resulting in well over 1 million deportations during the first four years of the Obama administration. This has caused the separation of untold thousands of families and the tearing apart of Chicano and Latino communities around the country - simply to fill arbitrary deportation quotas. ICE officials and the White House denied such allegations. On February 15, 2013, USA Today newspaper broke the story in a front page article based on newly released documents that verify what activists have been saying - that ICE has in fact been intentionally targetting 'low-priority' immigrants for mass deportations, through methods such as mass searches of drivers license databases and checkpoints set up near workplaces and neighborhoods thought to have many immigrant workers. One checkpoint referenced in the USA Today article was near Asheville, NC. Here Fight Back! News has an exclusive interview with Bobby Sullivan, who was stopped repeatedly at a checkpoint near Asheville, North Carolina - likely the same checkpoint referenced in the USA Today article.

Woodfin, NC – Bobby Sullivan goes to work every day from his home near Asheville, NC. One day something strange started happening on his way to work: he kept getting stopped at a police checkpoint. What was going on? The police, along with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), had set up an immigration checkpoint on a road near his home.

This is the face of ‘immigration enforcement’ in the U.S. today - checkpoints in our neighborhoods, racial profiling, all for the purpose of finding people to deport, leading to the cruel separation of families who have done nothing more than try to work and survive. In this interview Bobby tells about what he experienced. This is just a small window into the human impact of increased ‘immigration enforcement’ in our communities. Stories like these make it clear why we must oppose proposals to increase immigration enforcement, be it in our workplaces, in the streets, or at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Fight Back! News: You were pulled over 13 times within a month at an ICE checkpoint on your way to work. Where and when did that happen?

Bobby Sullivan: It was about 2 1/2 years ago. My family and I were living in Woodfin, NC on the edge of Asheville, the city I work in. Here's a little history on Woodfin law enforcement.

In the 15 years I've lived around Asheville, the Woodfin police have always been known as an on-the-prowl force and it's by far, the easiest place to get pulled over speeding. My wife one time noticed an old woman changing her tire herself, right in front of a Woodfin police officer who was just sitting in his car trying to catch speeders. These guys lost the "serve & protect" part a long time ago.

Needless to say, once moving into their sector I drove accordingly and rode my bike as often as possible. Unfortunately though, my job changed and I had to do a lot more driving. That's when I ran into a little difficulty.

Fight Back! News: Who was doing the checkpoint?

Bobby Sullivan: The checkpoint was done by the Woodfin cops and one time I saw a guy there with an ICE jacket on. He was clearly in charge.

Fight Back! News: Why did they have a checkpoint there?

Bobby Sullivan: This was on a side street, right at the bottom of the hill the house we were renting sits on. There was a small trailer park there with some Latino families and a factory nearby, that had been raided by ICE. [See here for more info]

The factory was not off my street however, so it was clear their target was the residents living in the trailer park or in the neighborhood. They would not answer any of my questions. As a resident of a few blocks away, I would expect to be able to find out why a checkpoint was set up. Was there something that happened that I should be concerned about? Are my wife and kids safe? They wouldn't say. "Just show me your license, if you have one!" My license had my Woodfin street address, so it was clear I was there for a reason.

Fight Back! News: Describe what happened to you when they pulled you over? Why do you think you were pulled over so many times? Was everyone pulled over that many times or do you think you were targeted for some reason?

Bobby Sullivan: Each time they asked me to pull over and then waved me through after some hard looks and a perusal of my license and the inside of my vehicle. One time I drove by before they were set up and they followed me up to my house, pulled me over there and were quite hostile as they checked my credentials. I then asked the officer his name, introduced myself, reached for his hand to shake and reminded him that we were on the same team. He got very flustered.

So all in all I was pulled over 13 times in one month, as was everyone who happened to drive by. The thing that got me, was that some folks were recognized and waved through, but I had to stop every time, even though they surely recognized me and my car. There was no other Rasta living around there at the time. Twice they asked me to step out so they could search the car. Once I complied and the other time I respectfully refused.

Fight Back! News: Do you see this as an example of institutionalized racism or targeting of oppressed people?

Bobby Sullivan: What struck me the most was there seemed to be a complete lack of humanity in these people. They wouldn't look me in my eyes and wouldn't respond to any gestures of friendliness. Keep in mind, this was my local police force, sworn to "serve and protect" me. Institutionalized racism, targeting oppressed people... absolutely. It was as clear as day. If I had one piece of paperwork out of order, or not up to date, I was going to pay for it. Leave-It-To-Beaver-looking folks, no problem. I knew that if I acted nervous in any way I'd be asked to step out of the car.

When working in the divestment movement surrounding the issue of Apartheid in South Africa in the '80's, we used to talk about the conditions down there. "Yeah, they have checkpoints you have to go through. Everyone's got to show their papers." It sounded like Nazi Germany. Now unfortunately, it sounds like America.