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A candidate for a U.S. House seat is claiming that federal officials are transporting immigrants to a town in his western North Carolina district.
Tyler Lee, a Republican, is running in the state’s newly-drawn 13th Congressional District. On Jan. 27, he shared a tweet by a Fox News reporter that said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been "releasing some illegal immigrants with misdemeanor criminal histories" in cities across the country. Lee then added his own commentary:
"I’ve been told by local citizens this has been happening in Huntersville #NC13 at big box retail locations. Feds aren’t notifying anyone, just making secret drops at 3am. When I’m elected, we won’t fund this illegal operation by @DHSgov."
Several people quickly called Lee’s tweet into question. It’s similar to other rumors spread in conservative media about "ghost flights" transporting immigrants "in the middle of the night," which in many cases haven’t been substantiated.
When asked to provide evidence to support his statement, Lee said in an email to Politifact NC: "I am reporting on what citizens in Huntersville and Charlotte are seeing and have told me."
So is Lee onto something in Huntersville? It appears not. We reached out to Huntersville police, the Mecklenburg County government, the North Carolina health department, ICE, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency. Each group said it was unaware of immigrants allegedly being dropped off in the town.
Before we get into their comments, let’s go over some recent immigration history and how the relocation process works.
The number of people crossing the southern U.S. border has skyrocketed over the past decade as the economy stagnated, corruption took root, and violence increased in Central American nations. PolitiFact has written about the immigration trends for years. The number of apprehensions at the border has reached new heights under President Biden.
Many migrants attempt to stay in the U.S. by seeking asylum — which is their right under federal law. And those seeking asylum are allowed to stay in the country until their case is heard. As shelters and third-party housing facilities fill up, federal agencies sometimes help relocate these migrants throughout the country.
So, hypothetically, it’s conceivable that the federal government could legally relocate people to Huntersville, a Mecklenburg County suburb of Charlotte. However, government agencies say they’re not aware of any recent effort to transport migrants to Huntersville.
"We have no complaints that have been filed with our agency in regards to this and are not aware of this occurring," Capt. Brian Vaughan of the Huntersville Police Department told us in an email.
Mecklenburg County officials are also "unaware of any such activities" described in the tweet, county spokesman Alex Burnett said in an email.
When immigrants seeking asylum arrive in North Carolina, the state Department of Health and Human Services’ Refugee Office works with the federal government and partner agencies to provide them with support services, said Bailey Pennington, a spokeswoman for the health department. The state’s refugee office is "not aware of such actions" mentioned in Lee’s tweet, Pennington said.
ICE agents in North Carolina are also unaware of any drop-offs in Huntersville, agency spokesperson Lindsay Williams told PolitiFact NC.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency often works with ICE to move immigrants across the country. However, when the agency’s facilities get full, they sometimes relocate them without ICE’s help. That has not happened in this case, according to the Customs and Border Protection agency.
CBP spokesperson Justin Long said staff with the U.S. Border Patrol hasn’t released migrants into Huntersville this year.
This isn’t the first time PolitiFact has checked rumors about the government allegedly dropping off immigrants in U.S. cities.
In April, bloggers falsely claimed that the Biden administration was "busing thousands of illegals to red states to get permanent status." And in August, a viral Facebook post falsely claimed that the federal government dropped off immigrants illegally in the country at a Mexican restaurant in a small town in northeastern Florida.
Lee said ICE has been releasing immigrants "in Huntersville #NC13 at big box retail locations" and suggested the actions are "illegal."
In PolitiFact’s fact-checking process, the burden of proof is on the person who makes a claim. And we rate statements based on the information available at the time the statement is made.
In this case, Lee provided no evidence for his claim. And federal, state and local authorities say they’re not aware of any effort to transport migrants to Huntersville. If migrants were being transported there, it’s unlikely that the drop-off would be illegal. Migrants who are seeking asylum are allowed to stay in the U.S. until their case is heard, and federal agencies often help them find housing throughout the country.
This claim is False.
Tweet by Tyler Lee, candidate for Congress in North Carolina, on Jan. 27, 2022.
Email exchange with Tyler Lee, candidate for Congress in North Carolina.
Story by the Washington Post, "Claims of ‘ghost flights’ of ‘illegal immigrants’ don’t add up," posted Feb. 4, 2022.
Story by the Associated Press, "Far from border, US cities feel effect of migrant releases," posted May 23, 2019.
Email exchange with Capt. Brian Vaughan of the Huntersville Police Department.
Email exchange with Alex Burnett, spokesman for Mecklenburg County.
Email exchange with Bailey Pennington, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
Email exchange with Lindsay Williams, spokesperson for ICE.
Email exchange with Justin Long, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
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