by Matt Saldaña
After hosting a speech by anti-immigration activist William Gheen earlier this month--in which Gheen compared Chatham County to the Soviet Union, and human rights activists to "foot soldiers" in a battle over immigration--Chatham Conservative Voice invited county commissioners to attend a Thursday night "community forum" to discuss their resolution opposing 287(g), a voluntary immigration enforcement program. The resolution, which commissioners unanimously approved in January, describes the federal program as a costly, and ineffective means of deterring crime. (A recent study by the UNC Law School and the ACLU arrived at the same conclusion.)
However, citing concerns for his own safety, Board of Commissioners Chairman George Lucier declined to attend the Feb. 26 event. In a previous interview with the Indy, Lucier read off several threatening e-mails he said he had received in response to the board's resolution, citing the Gheen speech as an aggravator. In a response posted on the Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee Web site, Gheen wrote that "such reports by illegal alien supporters are usually a bunch of hot air and hyperbole," adding, "I'd be squirming to [sic], if my e-mail box and voicemail was overloaded with contacts from people that fervently disagree with my positions."
In advance of the Feb. 26 CCV forum, NC FIRE, a Wade, N.C.-based anti-immigration group, distributed e-mails equating illegal immigrants with terrorists, and urged attendees to "fight back against Chatham County." The group's Web site, which conflates Latinos and illegal immigrants, contains unsubstantiated claims that Latinos carry diseases, and lists "8 ways that illegals make you sick." One graphic features an upside-down American flag, with a Mexican flag hoisted above it, and the caption, "Have you had enough of this?"
In a statement, Lucier said the group's e-mails had "effectively undermined the efforts of CCV and local residents to have a civil discussion about various issues."
We've requested a response from CCV founder Heather Johnson, who organized both events, and will update this post when we receive one. Posting on the Chatham County BBS, Johnson wrote that she had contacted NC FIRE, informing the group that "it's not a 287G forum and non-Chatham citizens would be turned away. We intend to hold a respectable, informative Forum. YES - we are still having it." Other members on the chat board noted that members of NC FIRE were in attendance.
Lucier's full statement, below:
I had originally agreed to participate in a panel discussion sponsored by the Chatham Conservative Voice (CCV), scheduled for the evening of February 26. I did so with the understanding that this would be a forum where local people could have a civil discussion about the 287(g) program as well as many other critical issues facing Chatham County, such as: school funding, the capital improvement program, budget priorities, economic development, revaluation issues, and implementation of the land use plan.
However, in the past week, several outside groups not affiliated with CCV have actively promoted this meeting with their own flyers and email lists, using inflammatory language. For example, NCFIRE has widely promoted the meeting to a long list of state/national organizations, including ALI-PAC, NC Minutemen Patriots and the Asheville Action Club. They have stated in their flyers that the purpose of the meeting is “fighting back against Chatham County” and have declared that “most terrorists are also illegal aliens.” These communications have effectively undermined the efforts of CCV and local residents to have a civil discussion about various issues.
Given that the meeting is being used by outside groups and promoted as something not originally intended. I will not participate in the forum on Thursday evening. However, as the chair of the Board of Commissioners, I am happy to talk with local residents individually or in other local groups, using a format that is not dominated and emotionally charged by outside influences. Sally Kost, vice chair of the commissioners, and I propose to meet with CCV and/or members of the local Republican Party to discuss their views on issues of importance to Chatham County.
A large number of people did attend the last Board of Commissioners meeting on Feb. 16 to share their views on the 287(g) resolution, with a substantial majority stating their support of the commissioners’ position. Based on the massive discussion on the Chatlist, it was clearly recognized by all sides that public input on this issue was slated for Feb. 16.
The 287(g) issue also has been covered widely by the local news media (TV, radio and newspapers) and I have given at least 15 interviews on the topic, including two that were detailed front-page articles. Examples are the Feb. 5 issues of The Chatham News & Record and The News & Observer. By now, the reasons for the Board of Commissioners adoption of the 287(g) resolution should be clear.