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Mayor Heggins’ ICE statement came as surprise for council members

SALISBURY — At least two Salisbury City Council members say they’ve received calls from residents who disagree with Mayor Al Heggins’ recent statement about immigration raids across the state.

Heggins said Friday that she stood with a handful of other North Carolina mayors in opposition to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in North Carolina and that the city of Salisbury and the Salisbury Police Department do not participate in the raids. She joined mayors from cities across the state — Durham, Asheville, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Burlington, Chapel Hill and Carrboro — who said they condemned the roundup of more than 200 people in the U.S. illegally earlier this month.

The mayors called on ICE to stop the raids because “they are detrimental to the welcoming, stable, loving communities that we work everyday to build,” Heggins said in the statement.

Meanwhile, the more than 200 arrests last week resulted from what ICE Regional Director Sean Gallagher called “the dangerous policies of not cooperating” with the agency, the Associated Press reported.

Councilwoman Karen Alexander said she has heard from a number of people in the community who are say they’re distressed about Heggins’ statement. Mayor Pro Tem David Post says he has received some calls from people who disagree with the statement.

What’s more, Post and Alexander say there was a lack of communication regarding Heggins’ statement. It wasn’t discussed by City Council members before it was published on the city’s website and sent to the media by Linda McElroy, the city’s communications director. Heggins also posted a video statement on her Facebook page.

“I shouldn’t learn about this from a newspaper reporter,” Post said when asked Wednesday about his reaction to the statement.

Alexander said she wasn’t aware of the statement until she began receiving calls. Alexander said she would have been opposed the statement if she had been consulted.

“It’s not a council (issue). It’s a national issue,” she said.

Council members Brian Miller and Tamara Sheffield could not be reached Wednesday to comment about Heggins’ ICE statement.

Heggins’ statement assured immigrants that they “live in a city that respects and values your contributions to our community.”

In her statement, Heggins said, “The city of Salisbury and our Police Department do not participate in ICE raids. If ICE is planning a raid in the Salisbury community, we have not been told.”

Asked Wednesday about the Salisbury Police Department’s participation or lack thereof, Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes confirmed the city has not yet participated in any raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. However, the city hasn’t been asked to participate in one and would assist if ICE requests assistance in detaining a violent person, Stokes said.

“Should there be a public safety issue, such as arresting a gang member or other violent person, we would assist or request assistance of ICE in an arrest of that person,” Stokes said.

Stokes said the Police Department is aware of the fear immigrants may have.

“To ensure all persons are assisted when they may seek help from the Salisbury Police Department, we do not as a practice inquire about a person’s immigration status,” Stokes said.

Contact reporter Liz Moomey at 704-797-4222.

Editor’s note (1:30 p.m. Feb. 21): Following publication, the city of Salisbury said Police Chief Jerry Stokes did not contradict Mayor Al Heggins’ statement about Immigration and Customs Enforcement and clarified police will not take part in an ICE operation in which a number of “undocumented individuals” are rounded up. Police will contact ICE when an undocumented immigrant who is a gang member or other violent person is in custody, the city said following publication.

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