It's a quick and simple transaction for most people. You hand your ID to the bank teller and deposit your paycheck but for Drucila Perez, this simple transaction stirred up enough fear to bring her to tears.

"I showed my expired my driver's license and the teller told me 'Why are you driving with an expired driver's license?' so I just put my head down and started to cry," she said.

More than two thousand miles from home and without legal authorization to be there, Drucila feared her time in the United States was coming to an end.


Chiapas is the southernmost state in Mexico and home to the largest indigenous population in the country. With that indigenous population, comes an agriculture-based economy and a history of government subjugation and negligence.

This is home for Drucila. When she lived there with her family 16 years ago, her father was a coffee farmer and her mother tended livestock. There was no electricity and education beyond the elementary level was almost impossible to pursue.

Trying to provide a better life for his family, Drucila's father left Chiapas to come to the United States when she was 11 but died there after two years. That's when some of Drucila's siblings, who were already living in the United States, worked to bring Drucila and the rest of her family over the border.

Immigration in Alamance County

According to Suyapa Mejia, the president of Latinos Unidos Promoviendo la Esperanza (LUPE), Drucila's story is not unique.

"They immigrate to this country because of an economic situation, the need to maintain their families," Mejia said. "Because in our countries you make $0.50 an hour. It's true that they violate the law when they cross the border or come without documents but they're obligated to do so because they have no other power to maintain their families."

LUPE is the only Latino-run organization in Alamance County focused on local and national issues facing that community. Though North Carolina is thousands of miles from the Mexican border, there are an estimated 828,000 people of Hispanic origin living there, making up 9 percent of the state population according to the Pew Research Center.

In Alamance County, this proportion jumps to 11 percent and within the county, there has been a 1100 percent population increase since 1990 and a 98 percent increase since 2000.

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With this significant population growth, groups such as LUPE are working to ensure that the Latinos in the community feel welcome and comfortable as well as have the resources to ease their transition into life in the area and the country.

Some of their services include organizing community baseball games, helping with local ID drives, teaching Spanish reading classes for Latino children and organizing workshops to help with filing taxes and dealing with bank paperwork.

The population growth also has serious implications for local politics. According to Mejia, as the Latino community continues to grow their integration and relationship with the rest of the Alamance County is becoming more and more important, especially as more and more of the population will be able to vote.

"Burlington, has added many Latino, Hispanic children that in the future will not be a minority when voting," Mejia said. "Maybe not a minority but a section, an important number and so I don't want these children to grow up in fear of the police and in fear of others with hatred."

Though she now has legal authorization to be in the United States, Drucila remembers the fear she felt when didn't.

"Most of the people, because they don't have legal status in the United States, like me before, try to hide," she said.

And because they're always hiding, they're always afraid of what might happen if they're found.

The relationship between immigrants and law enforcement

This fear among the Latino community concerns local law enforcement as well. Jeffrey Smythe, Chief of the Burlington Police Department, said he's working to bridge that gap.

One way that Smythe has done that is by partnering with local organizations to bring programs such as the FaithAction ID program to Alamance County.

The program, established by Greensboro nonprofit, FaithAction International House, provides alternative IDs to residents of certain communities that cannot get government issued IDs. Smythe's department as well as the Graham, Elon and Gibsonville police accept the IDs under the belief that issuing and legitimizing these IDs will help establish a greater degree of trust between the Latino community and the police.

"I think in Alamance County, there have been situations and times when people who are Hispanic have felt like the police were picking on them and you should not feel that way today and tomorrow. The police department treats everyone with dignity and respect," he said to a group gathered at a recent ID drive.

The Alamance County Sheriff's Department in particular has had a difficult reputation when it comes to its relationship with the local Latino community. Over the past few years, Sheriff Terry Johnson was under investigation and then on trial for charges related to racially profiling Latinos through targeted traffics stops.

This summer those charges were dismissed as the judge ruled there was not enough evidence to prove the department engaged in discriminatory practices, however the Department of Justice has recently filed an appeal on the ruling.

According to Randy Jones, Public Information Officer for the sheriff's department, these charges are not only unfounded but they also have led to rumors that have made it even more difficult for the sheriff's department to protect its Latino residents.

"I say it was very unfair to some of these communities when people tried to discourage them from interacting with the police or working with law enforcement in general because a lot of these folks were just simply not telling the truth," he said.

In addition to defending the department's practices, Jones wanted to clear up the misconception that the department was deporting Latinos for driving without a license, the same misconception that caused Drucila to break down in tears at the bank.

"We're not involved in the process," he said. "We do nothing different from any other agency," he said.

According to Jones, anyone in the county, regardless of race, could be arrested for driving without a license, and if an arrested individual was found to be in the country illegally, the department would file a detainer with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and wait for instructions from that agency.

Under these standards, someone like Drucila, if she had been caught driving without her license could have been arrested and reported to ICE if the department discovered she was in the country without authorization.

One layer of the fear that the Latino Community has for the government comes from these ideas but Smythe also acknowledges that mistrust of government may have more to do with where the immigrants and their families are coming from than any experiences they have had with the local police.

"If you come from a place where you can't trust the police and you can't trust the government I'm here to tell you that's different in North Carolina and it's different in Burlington," he said.

The future for the local Latino community

Drucila said that she misses her home in Chiapas and some of the family she has there that she left behind when she came over, but when she thinks of her children she knows that coming to the United States was the best thing that could have happened to her.

"I think all that my mother and my brothers did to bring us here in this country, I think it's the best thing that they decide," she said. "Even though some people don't like it, if I had to be here illegally, I would do it because of my kids."

Both of Drucila's children are U.S. citizens and she said they are the reason she needs to stay in the United States.

"How you gonna take your kids over there? They're from here," she said. "They're gonna have a good education here. They have to grow here."

This is the case for many immigrants. If their children were born in the country or were brought here when they were very young, then they either are citizens or can obtain legal status through programs such as the DREAM Act.

It's these children that give Mejia hope for the future of Hispanic relations in the county and the nation.

"The future of Hispanic children is what we're working on now," she said. "They are children born here. They're citizens and they have the right to live and make our future."

According to Mejia, the best way for the community and this new second generation of Hispanic Americans to grow and create this future is to combat the discrimination, fear and hate that separates the Hispanic community. If not, the divides between the communities will only deepen.

"A community that discriminates against you, that feeling that separation is creating hate," she said. "And that's where all this vengeance comes from. Where this revenge comes, the gangs the vengeance and why? Because there exists this division. A divided country cannot advance."