This week’s City Council meeting was a painful reminder for me. When leaders are more concerned with scoring points than solving problems, bad things can happen.

The theme of the night, unexpectedly, was illegal immigration. The issue came up during a simple, rote agenda item to accept a state grant that helps the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department reduce DWIs across our city. But the discussion quickly took a hard left turn, and became a forum to grill CMPD over their supposed involvement with federal ICE over the last week. During that time, this federal agency conducted several raids in Charlotte to arrest illegal immigrants.

Let’s put aside the fact there is no correlation whatsoever between this simple agenda item and ICE. These checkpoints are based on empirical data and scheduled up to a year in advance. ICE is not told about them, and CMPD is not made aware of ICE activities. Let’s also put aside the amazing results these checkpoints have had on our community. Over the last year, over 1,100 violations were identified in these stops, many of which resulted in taking impaired drivers off the road before lives are lost.

We cannot use our police officers as pawns or props and demonize them for doing this important work just because some are afraid it might raise the “anxiety” of illegal immigrants living in Charlotte.

Photo by Elvert Barnes via Flickr (Creative Commons)

That may sound callous, but let me refresh your memory. In 2018, the people of Charlotte essentially decided to rescind the 287(g) program by voting in a sheriff who campaigned on ending it. This program allowed ICE to work with the county jail to detain illegal immigrants who were arrested in connection to other crimes.

The argument of those against 287(g) was that our immigration system is broken, and programs like this were instilling fear in our immigrant communities. Canceling the program would be their way to stand up with a unified voice and say they’ve had enough. What they didn’t say, though, was they were really opposed to ICE and current federal immigration laws.

Leaving 287(g) does nothing to change that. In fact, it was quickly clear it would have the opposite effect. Last week, ICE said their raids were necessary because Mecklenburg County no longer works with ICE to detain illegal immigrants in the county jail.

Now, some may call that enforcement retaliation. But others may call it ICE doing the job they’ve been tasked with however they can. That distinction doesn’t really matter though. The fact is, they are following the current law of the land, and they are doing that job in the streets rather than in the jail system where 287(g) allowed it to exist for years.

Ironically, this frustrating debate concluded with a unanimous vote to accept the grant. As it turned out, the speeches and posturing were only about making a political point. It didn’t matter if CMPD got thrown under the bus in the process.

We must come together as a community and think just as hard about the unintended consequences of our actions as we do in crafting our talking points and debating on social media.

Tariq Bokhari is the Charlotte City Councilman representing District 6.

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