Council passes employee rights resolution

Following on the heels of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride three weeks ago, the Durham City Council passed a resolution Monday night that scored an important victory for the immigrant community. The council also received comments concerning rezoning and future development of the University property.

A "Resolution Supporting the Rights of Persons Regardless of Immigration Status" drew cries of support from Durham Latinos and their supporters but also controversy from some other residents present at the meeting. The resolution expresses the city's intentions to keep its employees from acting as immigration enforcement agents.

Andres Troya, a member of El Centro Hispano, praised the City Council for its support, saying it had insured safety, health and accessibility of city services to the Hispanic immigrant community and all citizens, "regardless of whether they have been here for three generations or three years."

Father David McBriar, pastor at Immaculate Conception Church, insisted that even in the case of illegal immigrants, it is important to remember that constitutional amendments acknowledge "human rights," not just "civil rights."

Randy Lewis, founder of Stop the Invasion!, decried the use of phrases like "undocumented workers" to distract from the illegal status of many immigrants.

"[The resolution] is saying that the police should not do their duty," Lewis said. "These are criminals--these are illegal aliens." At one point, Lewis directed his comments to the individual council members. "You will be personally liable for any illegal aliens caught and released."

Nevertheless, Mayor Bill Bell stressed that the resolution seeks only to prevent city employees from going out of their way to enforce immigration laws.

"We aren't going to go about the business of randomly picking out people," Bell said. "This council is certainly not advocating something that is breaking the law."

The resolution passed 4-1, with the dissenting vote cast by John Best.

IN OTHER NEWS: The council passed a city-initiated rezoning case, moving about 2,000 acres of university property out of a variety of older districts and putting it in the newly-created University/College district.

Creation of the new district caused a stir last spring, when University officials lobbied city staff to strike some wording from the zoning provisions, said John Schelp, president of the Old West Durham Neighborhood Association. The revisions would have allowed the University to possibly target the off-campus population with Central Campus shopping establishments, which would not have to pay property taxes, like off-campus stores, Schelp said.

Although the University had pulled Central Campus from last night's rezoning, Schelp said he worries about the future.

"A framed drawing showing a retail-intense version of Central Campus, a cross between Disney World and Mall of America, hangs in the offices of the Duke Architect," Schelp said. "On-campus retail would have an impact on the business districts surrounding Duke's campus."

But Schelp ultimately praised Duke officials for working closely with surrounding neighborhoods to resolve current concerns. He contrasted the situation with the "acrimonious period of mistrust" that the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and its surrounding community have suffered as a result of campus rezoning in Chapel Hill.

"Standing with our partners at Duke, we urge you to vote for the rezoning before you," Schelp said.

The rezoning measure passed 5-0.


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