Where do Durham City Council Candidates stand on Immigration?

Durham local politics, despite otherwise being progressive, can sometimes feature unacceptably anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The city council race is where this is most relevant–the candidates in the race are Steve Schewel, Victoria Peterson, Donald Hughes, Eugene Brown, Diane Cattoti and Solomon Burnette.   Voters have the opportunity to choose their top 3 candidates. The race is definitely a competitive one, and the very anti-immigrant candidate Victoria Peterson was fourth of the six in the primary, meaning she wouldn’t be a “long-shot” to win.

I personally endorse Hughes, Cattoti and Schewel–their stances on immigration issues are listed below.

More can be found on the candidates by reading their candidate questionnaires on Indy Week (Brown and Peterson did not answer) and by the Durham People’s Alliances (Hughes and Peterson did not answer)

Solomon Burnette

In the City Council Candidate’s Forum last Thursday, Burnette illustrated  ignorance of the issues associated with immigration policy.  On the note of the Matricula Consular cards, he apologized for not being familiar with the ID, saying that the only Spanish he knew was for “food and women” and his response to the rest of the question continued to use somewhat stereotype-bound descriptions of Hispanics.  He said he worried that the use of Matricula Consular cards would force the city of Durham to accept other forms of ID (he used the specific example of Honduran and Guatemalan identification), and said he would have voted against the Matricular Consular proposal before city council last year.

This having been said, there is nothing to suggest that Burnette is xenophobic, and in fact, the opposite seems true.   Some of his statements seem motivated more by ignorance than by distrust or hostility towards immigrants.

This is made clear in part by his responses to a question about 287(g):

“I believe that the institution of 287(g) type laws represents in the least a violation of human and civil rights and should not be implemented in any city; Much less a city self-designated as a ‘sanctuary’  for immigrants.  My opposition to 287(g) is well noted and towards this policy’s change I have worked with state representatives, immigrant communities, and myriad activist organizations in Durham, Wake, and Guilford Counties via The Southern Coalition for Social Justice.  Also, increased harassment and surveillance of Muslims, Arabs, North African and South Asian Citizens and Immigrants necessitates more attention in this regard”

Diane Cattoti

Cattoti, an incumbent, voted yes to accept the use of Matricula Consular cards, and yes to boycott Arizona.  She however has not expressed a clear position on 287(g) saying “It’s a balancing act.  I believe DPD works hard to engage and not alienate our Latino community.”

Eugene Brown

Brown, an incumbent, voted no to accept the use of Matricular Consular cards, and no to boycott Arizona


He has expressed his dissatisfaction with 287(g): “I’m not a big fan of 287(g), nor the Secure Communities program and the difference between the two programs is slim.  To me, it’s rather simple – our police department has more than enough to do addressing public safety in Durham.  I’m not sure they need the added work load of being engaged in what is primarily a federal responsibility regarding immigrants.  Under Chief Jose Lopez, Sr., it appears that these instruments are not exactly a top priority within our department, nor should they be, except in cases of serious crimes.  The burden of proof here rests with the U. S. Congress.  Until this issue is resolved with Congress, which has the power, responsibility and authority to do so, expect more desperate enforcement laws such as we have seen emerge in Arizona in the past year. I fault the federal government here for engaging in “conflict avoidance” and/or too often viewing this issue as an “electoral weapon” instead of working together for a fair solution.  Shame on them.

And, for the record, I did not support the restrictive Arizona law (Senate Bill 1070), but opposed the Council’s vote to boycott Arizona.  The last time I checked, I wasn’t elected to vote to boycott a sovereign state, or to vote on national issues such as immigration.  Just like our police department, we need to focus on Durham and its many challenges.  And, as a Council member, I believe we have more than enough city work to do than to waste time, energy, and our emotions with the politics of gesture.”

Donald Hughes

Hughes has said he would have voted yes on the Arizona boycott and yes on accepting Matricula Consular cards

Steve Schewel

On 287(g) :


“In general, we need to make our community a place of welcome for all people regardless of their ethnicity, citizenship or documentation status. The success of Durham’s Hispanic community in particular is critical to our success as an entire community. We will rise and fall together, and the influx of Hispanic residents has enriched us economically and culturally. Specifically regarding 287(g), I believe our local  administration of the program is appropriate, and I support it. That is, I support the practice of our police  department not to ask questions about a person’s immigration status if he or she has committed an offense. Instead, police officers are trained and instructed to deal simply with the particular offense at hand”

Schewel has stated that he would have voted yes on the Arizona boycott and yes on the matricula consular cards

Victoria Peterson:

Victoria Peterson has the most troubling positions of the six.  On the issue of accepting Matricula Consular id cards: “”We’re asking folks to come in this community, stay here, work and get services, and they are breaking the law. And that is wrong,” said Victoria Peterson, an outspoken resident and director of a nonprofit vocational program. “A lot of the illegal folks in this community are taking our jobs,” she added.”

Published by Elena Botella

Elena Botella is a Duke Undergraduate in the Class of 2013, majoring in Economics and Math.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: