In Garner meeting, immigrants express deportation fears

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It was a standing-room-only crowd inside Garner's St. Mary Mother of the Church.

In the standing-room-only crowd inside Garner's St. Mary Mother of the Church, many, if not most, of the attendees are living in the U.S. illegally.

They are moms, dads, neighbors, and taxpayers, like Diana Flores, who came here from Mexico 16 years ago. She brought her teenage daughter, Amy, to the church with her, driving the family car that she's unable get a driver's license to operate legally.

"I don't know, I feel like every time when I see the police I'm scared because I don't have a driver's license," Flores said about her mounting fears that a traffic stop could lead to deportation.

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"It's been very distracting to me," Diana's daughter Amy Perez said. "Because at some point ... I could be at school and my mom could be gone and it's scary."

Amy is a natural-born citizen, but her mom is one of an estimated 350,000 undocumented immigrants living in North Carolina -- the eighth-highest number in the nation according to Pew Research.

President Donald Trump's hardline rhetoric against illegal immigration and his recent executive orders to beef up ICE enforcement have raised fears in the Triangle's immigrant community.

Despite the tougher talk from Washington, the tone was strikingly conciliatory at Thursday's forum with local law-enforcement leaders.

"We talk about immigration law, that is federal law that we do not participate in," said Garner Police Chief Brandon Zuidema.

"All the new documents, the orders that's coming down really hasn't done any change for us," said Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison. "We're still doing the same thing. If you don't commit a crime, we don't ask you who you are."

For Flores, who came hoping to hear more about a potential path for a legal driver's license, the meeting was lacking.

"But, what can (the sheriff) do for me?" Flores said. "He don't say nothing to get a driver's license- that's only what I want."

Flores believes most of the people that showed up at the forum came seeking a way to secure a driver's license to give them a sense of security during uncertain times.

The sheriff, police chiefs, and the immigration attorneys crowding the forum's head table all said the same thing; It's up to the legislature -- where there doesn't appear to be an appetite for that right now.

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