Manuel Manolo Betancur was tired—but not because his business, Manolo’s Bakery at 4405 Central Ave had been overrun by customers. No, the bakery formerly called Las Delicias had been having the opposite problem in the days since ICE began conducting undercover raids targeting Charlotte’s undocumented immigrant communities.
The number of regulars who came daily to buy fresh Colombian bread or sweet treats had dropped so drastically, the bakery was throwing out dozens of baked goods at the end of each day. Frustrated, Betancur took to social media.
“Dear member of this community, if you say you care about East Charlotte and you are proud to be part of this welcoming city, come and support our immigrant owned business,” he wrote in a Facebook post Feb. 7. “If you want us here and [want us] to keep contributing to the local economy, please go to your favorite restaurant or bakery and spend a few dollars. Or if you want for us to be out of business and move to another more immigrant friendly state then don’t do anything.”
From Feb. 4-7, ICE officers detained 200 individuals in North Carolina, twelve in Charlotte. The numbers have grown since, with nearly a third of those arrests being categorized as “collateral,” or people who are undocumented and have broken no other laws. Seven North Carolina mayors signed a letter condemning the ICE raids, from the cities of Asheville, Burlington, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro and Fayetteville. Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles was not among them.
The crackdown has had a massive ripple effect across Charlotte’s immigrant businesses. Betancur said his sales dropped 70 percent in the days immediately after the first raids. Since his outreach on social media, he’s been met with an outpouring of support from Charlotte’s community. Things have improved, but not enough.
“After that post, people from as far as Pineville, Morrisville and Ballantyne have come to support the bakery. It’s been overwhelming to us,” Betancur said.
Still on Feb. 16, a Saturday and normally the shop’s busiest day of the week, the floor was markedly less crowded.
“We sell up to 100 cakes for birthday celebrations and similar events on weekends,” said one of Betancur’s bakers, who is 17. “This Saturday, we sold about 20.”
It was similar to the scene at the Compare Foods bakery on Sharon Amity Road on Friday night. With rumors of ICE targeting the area being posted to social media earlier that day, the bakery, which serves the heavily Latino population in the area was a ghost town.
“There was no one on the streets,” Betancur said. “People are closing their bank accounts and leaving the city.”
Anecdotally, ICE’s actions appear to be affecting Charlotte’s small businesses, which support the local economy. Employees are taking time off, for themselves or because they have relatives who were taken by ICE. Betancur said the situation is worse now than the raids of 2017, when agents were arresting parents at school drop-off lines and boarding public transportation.
“That only went on for a few days,” Betancur said. “This is going on three weeks of business declining. We are still thriving, but tax times is coming…We have got to change our mindset and stand with each other. Don’t let fear kill our dreams of a better future.”