Protesters backing undocumented immigrants locked out of Bank of America HQ

Updated: May. 1, 2017 at 1:59 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, NC (Mark Price/The Charlotte Observer) - The south doors of Bank America's corporate headquarters were locked at 10:30 a.m. Monday, to keep out immigrant advocates who tried to enter the building to advocate for undocumented immigrants.

A dozen protesters sought to enter a branch on the building's first floor, to present staff with a letter asking that Bank of America distance itself from elected officials who support the immigration policies of President Donald Trump.

Security guards locked the door about 10:45 a.m. and a member of the bank's security staff told the group to leave the property. The guard, who declined to give his name, told the group he would deliver their letter to bank officials. As the encounter took place, more than a dozen Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police stood nearby on Tryon Street.

Hector Vaca, of the immigrant advocacy group Action NC, led the protest as part of a national campaign against so-called "Corporate sponsors of hate." Backers of the campaign accuse the nation's financial industry, including Wells Fargo and Bank of America, of financing candidates who back the immigration policies of President Trump.

Plans to deliver a letter to Wells Fargo's offices in Charlotte were aborted so the protesters could join a larger rally and march planned Monday at Marshall Park. That event was expected to attract "a few thousand people,' said Vaca.

"I'm not surprised they locked the door," Vaca said after being turned away. "We scared them. What does that mean? We are powerful. They locked us out because they were afraid of the bad publicity."

The rally outside the bank was joined by representatives of the Charlotte NAACP and Greenpeace. All spoke in support of protecting Mecklenburg County's estimated 54,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The rally outside the bank was one of 30 such corporate protests schedule in cities across the country on May 1, said Vaca. The campaign is part of a national grassroots effort coordinated through the Center for Popular Democracy, based out of Washington, D.C.

In the letter delivered to Bank of America, Action NC accused the bank of financially backing conservative candidates like Rep. Robert Pittenger "who support Trump's anti-immigrant agenda."

"We're asking that you do the right thing and stand up against Trump's regime of hate by disassociating with Congressman Pittenger," said the letter.

Action NC is also playing a role in the rally planned at Marshall Park. Organizers include the Southeast Asian Coalition, Comunidad Colectiva and Alerta Migratoria, all of which are pushing city and county leaders to defy federal laws that call for the arrest and deportation of people who are in the country illegally.

Backers of the Marshall Park event are calling on businesses to close, people to skip work, and students to avoid going to class on Monday. In cases where businesses stay open, Comunidad Colectiva is calling for a boycott.

It remains unclear if participation will rival the Feb. 16 Day Without An Immigrant rally that drew up to 8,000 people to Marshall Park. It was estimated 250 immigrant-run businesses closed that day in Charlotte.

Among the demands released by the groups Wednesday:

  • End Mecklenburg County’s participation in the federal 287(g) program. Under that program, all prisoners taken to the county jail are asked about their citizenship. Those who cannot show U.S. citizenship are referred to the 287(g) program for further study by federal agents. (ICE says 100 people were deported in 2016 through Mecklenburg County’s participation in the program.)
  • Protect the access of undocumented immigrants to city benefits and services.
  • Delete citizenship status questions from all applications, questionnaires and forms used in relation to the city. Prohibit city agencies and employees from requesting information or investigating a person’s citizenship or immigration status.
  • End all CMPD motor vehicle checkpoints.
  • Cut CMPD funding and “reinvest” the money in housing, health and education programs.
  • Decriminalize or create alternative forms of accountability for: crimes of survival, such as theft and sex work; offenses that take place in public schools or other public educational facilities; and “minor” traffic offenses such as DUIs, not having an operators license and driving with a revoked license. (Undocumented immigrants are not allowed to get a North Carolina driver’s license, making it a key issue among advocates.)
  • Provide money for immigrants in need of legal representation and create an office within the city to provide legal services to immigrants and refugees.