Kids use residency fears to blackmail their parents, Cornelius officials learn

A drive down Adair Street in Cornelius reveals more ‘mercados’ than markets, more ‘tiendas’ than shops, and the popular Centro Cultural at the center of it all.

But when city officials held a Spanish-language town-hall meeting at Centro Saturday, only 16 people showed up.

“We were hoping to see 200 people,” Police Chief Ken Summers said. More than 50 people attended a similar event last year.

“But the size of the crowd isn’t as important as the quality of the conversation,” Summers added.

The meetings are part of the city of Cornelius’s attempt to reach a rapidly-growing cultural group that already makes up the majority of its 12,147 residents. Summers, City Manager Rob Drake, Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett, City Councilman Dave Schamp and Washington County Crime Prevention Coordinator Darlene Schnoor fielded questions for nearly two hours.

Topics were diverse, but all led back to matters of residency.

When Garrett and Summers kicked off the meeting by announcing that the city was considering turning police jurisdiction over to the Washington County Sheriff’s office, a Cornelius resident asked if the sheriff considered an identification card from the Mexican Consulate a valid form of identification.

“We do,” Garrett said, “but if there are concerns about its validity, my deputies are obligated to take that person into custody — for purposes of identification only. I know the perception is very different, so I want to add that, in the first six months of 2013, nobody has been brought to jail in Washington County for providing fraudulent I.D.”

Domestic violence, gang violence and drug use were also pressing concerns.

Interpreter David Villalpando commended Cornelius police for their recent gang prevention program, which drew roughly 60 kids. “But,” he said, “most kids will taste marijuana by the time they’re in middle school.”

One man asked where he could go for help if he knew his child was abusing drugs. He then shared a commonly held concern that kids — especially rebellious teenagers — can essentially blackmail their parents with residency fears.

“Kids will sometimes threaten to call ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) if their parents try to punish them,” Villalpando said.

The fear was the same when the question of domestic violence was raised.

“What happens to someone’s residency status if the police are called to a domestic violence dispute?” one woman asked in Spanish.

Summers was adamant that questions of residency were not his concern.

“We cannot, will not, do not want to know a person’s residency status,” he said after the meeting.

But some participants noted that while legal residency may not be appropriate for Summers and Garrett to address, a conviction for any crime could affect their residency status or application for citizenship.

“It depends on how serious the offense was,” Garrett said. “Criminal convictions can be a problem down the road, but that’s a decision made by immigration.”

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