Rumors that circulated social media regarding United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement operating in Boone were untrue and unfortunate, according to the Boone Police Department. For the Latino community, these rumors were stressful and frightening.
Andy Le Beau, captain of police operations, said the Boone Police Department notices this and is in regular contact with the Latino community.
Elizabeth Elias, a local Latina woman, credits the Boone Police Department for working with minorities, especially in accepting identification from “Project ID.” The project is an orientation and identification drive for community members that cannot get a government issued ID, according to the Project ID website.
“If you get pulled over, you’re not going to be safe from a ticket, but at least the police is going to know who you are and where you live,” Elias said.
Elias said with this resource, police can stray from making unnecessary arrests, which is one of the reasons why many Latinos are afraid of official figures.
“Especially in the Bamboo Road area (there) was this officer, people from the Latino community used to call him the racist police,” Elias said about a police officer in Boone about ten years ago. “He was just seeing a Latino driving, and he would just stop them right away.”
Elias said despite her past fear of police, she has had positive interactions with the Boone Police Department in recent years.
“They have been really helpful,” Elias said. “My family, we know that police are here to help, there’s some other people that (are) really scared of them.”
Elias said many Latinos fear law enforcement and often do not call the police when they are needed because they are afraid of arrests as undocumented citizens.
The 287(g) program, a section of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, allows local law enforcement officers to push immigration law, which Latinos fear, Elias said.
Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman wrote in an email that his office has never participated in the 287(g) program.
“We do not have the resources to support the participation of a 287(g) program,” Hagaman wrote. “Most importantly, like all of our local partners, our call volume is very intense—we all are lucky enough just to hopefully move from call to call and render law enforcement services in a timely manner.”
Hagaman said the sheriff’s office is focused on addressing all community members’ needs.
“The demographics and diverse populations now dictate that we must move our mission from ‘typical’ law enforcement duties to a more socially engaged agency,” Hagaman wrote.
Hagaman defined “typical” law duties as traditional acts of arresting people and putting them in the back of a cop car.
Elias said local law enforcement officer have held meetings informing minorities of their rights. She said Latinos should go and learn laws that pertain to them so they can avoid fearing the police.
“If they will know about their rights and what to do, it will be a totally different story,” Elias said. “On these rumors, they don’t know where to call, how to find out if it is true or not.”
Elias believes the rumor was created by someone not in the Latino community because the original message was typed in English. She thinks move-in day police presence and late-night road construction could have triggered the rumors.
“People just start sending the message without figuring out if its true or not,” Elias said. “That was not right.”
Elias encourages Latinos to contact the Watauga Immigrant Justice Committee and local group Manos Latinos Unidos on Facebook with any concerns about immigration in the high country.