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How Can Charlotte Help Immigrants? The Public Weighs In

Elizabeth_Martinez.jpg
Nick de la Canal
/
WFAE
Elizabeth Martinez, an immigrant from El Salvador who has lived in Charlotte for 12 years, spoke at a public meeting Thursday night.

More than 50 people squeezed into a grade school classroom at Charlotte's Bilingual Pre-k Thursday night to help city leaders understand the fears of local immigrants and brainstorm possible solutions.

The meeting was the second of eight public events planned by the city's new immigration committee, formed by Mayor Vi Lyles and led by Council Member Larken Egleston.

At Thursday's meeting, attendees said many local immigrants have been paralyzed with fear following last month's sweeping raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Elizabeth Martinez, an immigrant from El Salvador, said she kept her children from school the week of the raids, fearing for her family's safety, and said she usually brings her children to the park in the summer, but was having second thoughts this year.

[Related Content: In Response To Critics, Mayor Lyles Releases Letter On Immigration]

"People are terrified," said another attendee, Lusia Donoso, "I've had to comfort children who don't know when their parents are going to come back, and I don't have answers for them. I've had to comfort their parents. I've had to take care of my own family because they're terrified of going to work."

Other attendees said local businesses had been losing money and workers because of the raids, and that the city's response to the arrests had been delayed and inadequate.

Several people urged the city to create a bilingual office of immigrant affairs that could directly communicate with immigrants, answer their legal questions, and connect them with city resources. Others suggested implementing a "language access plan," and revisiting suggestions from a 2015 city task force that examined concerns facing Charlotte's immigrant population.

Activists with the group Comunidad Colectiva also called on the city to send out public alerts if they become aware of ICE raids within the city.

[Related Content: What Charlotte Can (And Can't) Do To Help Local Immigrants]

Speaking at the end of the meeting, Council Member Matt Newton, who represents parts of east Charlotte, admitted that the city appeared to have a "major communication gap," and voiced support for a "joint center" that could disperse information to immigrants.

The city will continue collecting suggestions at public meetings through the end of the month. Egleston says he hopes to have a proposal before the full city council by April.