CHARLOTTE, NC (Mark Price/The Charlotte Observer) - Advocates for undocumented immigrants gathered outside three Wells Fargo Centers in uptown Charlotte Wednesday to demand the bank cut all ties with companies that profit from deportations.
Hector Vaca of Action NC says the goal of the event is to get Wells Fargo to pull its money out of private prisons and immigrant detention centers. The protesters are also demanding the bank use its political influence to stop plans for a wall along the Mexican border.
A website called "Corporate Backers of Hate" has singled out Wells Fargo as one of the major corporations in the nation that profit from President Donald Trump's strict enforcement of immigration laws. The site says the bank is a "Trump creditor; financier of, and investor in, immigrant detention and private prison companies."
Vaca said the recent increase in deportations across the nation has Charlotte's immigrant community "living in terror."
"We demand that (Wells Fargo) stand against Trump's regime of hate by rejecting the potential incentives offered...for your complicity," Vaca told a group of about 20 protesters Wednesday. "President Trump may never listen to the people he has sworn to serve, but he will have to listen if corporations like Wells Fargo refuse to collaborate."
Wells Fargo has denied it is playing a key role in financing the deportation system, and says complicated Securities and Exchange Commission filings give a misleading picture of the bank's involvement with private prison operations such as GEO. Wells Fargo mutual fund investors "currently hold a small position in GEO," but not Wells Fargo itself, said a bank spokesman.
"We do not, as a corporation, take positions on public policy issues that do not directly affect our company's ability to serve customers and support team members, including immigration reform issues," Wells Fargo said a statement. "Individuals who have concerns about the private prison industry or immigration reform would be better served by addressing those concerns to their elected legislators in Congress – not to their bank," the spokesman said.
Advocates for undocumented immigrants have accused some of the immigrant detention centers of being akin to "conditions in third world countries," Vaca said.
The Wednesday protest fell the day after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported the results of a nationwide surge in arrests made last month. ICE arrested 650 undocumented immigrants across the nation, including 137 from the Carolinas and Georgia. Spanish language newspapers in Charlotte have reported that about 50 people were arrested in the city since mid-July.
At the conclusion of the protest, Action NC delivered a list of demands to Wells Fargo. In addition to asking the bank to distance itself from immigrant prisons, the group also asked Wells Fargo to pressure the Charlotte City Council and Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners to "stand strong with immigrant and refugees communities."
Action NC led a similar protest against the city's banks in May, including an attempt to present a letter to Bank of America's corporate staff. The letter sought to have the bank distance itself from Trump's immigration enforcement policies.