I was very excited to attend my first meeting as a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee on Feb. 21, after being appointed to the position by Charlotte City Council this month.
My first meeting also happened to be an important meeting with critical updates on recent immigration issues in Charlotte and Mecklenburg with a presentation from Atenas Burrola, director and managing attorney for the Latin American Coalition’s Immigration Integration Center.
Some important background and takeaways from the presentation:
• North Carolina’s immigrant population has more than tripled since the 1990s and since the early 2000s, Charlotte has become a “gateway city” for immigrants coming to the U.S.
• The largest growth in the immigrant community has come from Latino populations; North Carolina ranks sixth in the nation for the number of migrant farm workers in the country
• Five percent of North Carolina’s workforce is comprised of undocumented workers
• 60,000+ Asian and Latino owned businesses contribute $13.5 billion in revenue to our economy and employ 79,000 people
• Latino and Southeast Asian immigrant communities are most at-risk for immigration-related actions
Some important updates and facts regarding recent ICE deportation actions in Charlotte were also presented to the Committee:
• At least 30 people in Charlotte and 167 in North Carolina, were detained by ICE in recent deportation and detainment actions this month
• There have not been traditional “raids” or “checkpoints,” but ICE does seem to be taking detainment actions and arrests when individuals are en route to or from home, work, school, etc., and seems to know something of targeted individuals’ routines
• ICE has begun to arrest “collaterals,” individuals who were not being sought by ICE but who were in the presence or company of someone ICE was seeking
• There is confirmed ICE activity around schools, in particular Berryhill Elementary School; school attendance has been affected; as many as 1 in 5 Latino children belong to mixed-status families
There has been a huge amount of fear and uncertainty among immigrant communities in Charlotte as a result of recent ICE activities, and local advocates believe that local officials, governments and institutions, including City Council, County Commission, Charlotte Mecklenburg School Board, local hospitals, etc., need to take stances that help to calm fears and create a sense of safety for local residents.
While City Council is prohibited by state law from becoming a “sanctuary city,” it and other institutions and governing bodies *can* create public stances that draw firm lines on expectations of ICE activities in Charlotte (e.g., restricting ICE activities in and around schools or hospitals or when people are en route to and from them, among other examples).
Mayor Jennifer Roberts was present at the meeting and spoke briefly, echoing her earlier statements on Charlotte’s welcome of immigrants and refugees. She alone, however, said she does not have the power to bring potential resolutions, statements or stances to the Council, which needs six votes to pass any statement.
I suggested, along with fellow Committee member Mel Hartsell, that this should be an area where the Committee has some ability to help shape a welcoming narrative for immigrants. Mel also stressed the importance of the Committee’s advisory role. I asked that a potential statement or resolution be referred to one of the Committee’s subcommittees. I’m looking forward to working with other Committee members and following up with them, the chair and subcommittee chairs to determine what next best steps the Committee can take to advise the City and County on better welcoming and safeguarding our immigrant communities.