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Follow our coverage of immigration and related issues affecting Latinos in the Charlotte area.

Charlotte's Immigration Advocates Cautiously Hopeful Of Potential Biden-Harris Immigration Plan

Immigration-Court.jpg
Lisa Worf / WFAE
Charlotte's Immigration Court is home to many immigration cases heard in the area -- and has some of the highest deportation rates in the country.

Kamal Dhimal lived in a refugee camp in Nepal for 20 years before resettling in Charlotte.

He’s originally from Bhutan in Southeastern Asia. When his community faced government persecution, Dhimal fled in 1992.

“It was like a prison. We were not allowed to go outside. We were not allowed to own money. We are not allowed to do anything,” he said.

In 2010, Dhimal, his wife, and 18-month-old daughter were among the nearly 61,000 Bhutanese refugees admitted to the U.S. between 2008 and 2012.

“I got the golden opportunity to come to this great land of opportunity,” he said.

It hasn’t all been perfect, Dhimal said. In 2017, his first business, a Nepali-Indian market in East Charlotte, was set on fire. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police called it a hate crime after finding a letter threatening him to “go back where he came from.”

But talks of welcoming more refugees and a clearer path toward citizenship for immigrants under the President Joe Biden administration has him feeling hopeful.

Biden is expected to introduce legislation overhauling U.S. immigration laws. It would create an eight-year pathway towards citizenship for qualifying immigrants and increase the number of refugees and asylum-seekers admitted to the U.S.

“At heart, this is what America is,” he said. “I’m very happy and hopeful that America will come back again to the level of understanding and unity (in) diversity.”

Phone calls and texts from clients have steadily come in for Charlotte immigration attorney Jordan Forsythe. She echoes Dhimal’s sentiments of hope.

“If Biden has his way, it looks like there’ll be a pathway for people who have worked and lived in the United States, who don’t have criminal histories, and who have paid their taxes and done things the right way,” she said.

Forsythe works on a lot of cases that go through the Charlotte Immigration Court. It has some of the highest deportation rates in the nation, according to data from Syracuse University. And while immigration courts are separate from federal agencies, like Citizenship and Immigration Services, Forsythe says who’s in the White House does impact outcomes in immigration court.

“The way to affect change into the immigration court is to make an actual federal court," she said explaining that immigration courts are administrative. "Until then, the immigration courts will flow with the political leanings of the White House.”

Forsythe also points out that Biden’s proposal won’t happen without pushback from Republicans in Congress.

State representative Mark Brody is a Republican and represents North Carolina’s 55th district, covering Anson and Union counties. He says any legislative action at the state level will depend on what Biden’s plan actually turns out to be.

“It ends up to be problematic if you don’t control who comes in," he said. "And then, of course, there’s always not only the hardworking people coming in looking for a better life. There’s the criminal aspect of it too. And those people come in, too."

Research by the New American Economy in partnership with Mecklenburg County and the city of Charlotte found that the immigrant community is predominantly from Spanish-speaking countries, with Mexico being the top country of origin. The Latin American Coalition of Charlotte currently serves about 150 clients looking to stay in the country legally.

“There’s a lot of hope in general,” said Ivonne Bass, who manages the Coalition’s Immigrant Legal Center. “But at the same time, we are all kind of waiting to see what Biden can really do in his first 100 days (in the presidency). Because one thing is what he’s planning on doing and wants to do, and another thing is what he can actually do as a president.”

Bass says she’s hopeful for the upcoming administration’s plan and has clients asking what they can expect from their cases after Inauguration Day.

She tells them to be patient. They have to wait and see if Biden follows through with his legislation, whether Congress will pass it, and if the pandemic will delay the process.

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