Conversations with Charlotte leaders working for immigrant equity this week reveal huge differences in the Democratic and Republican political platforms on the issues of economic mobility and immigration reform, the connection between the two, and how important they are to the city.
The Republican platform praises legal immigration, supports the construction of a border wall, advocates using the Department of Homeland Security to expedite expulsion of immigrants, opposes permanent residence for foreign nationals, and opposes citizenship for immigrant youths who were brought to the United States as children without documentation -- sometimes called “Dreamers.” The Democratic platform also praises immigration with less legal distinctions, supports Dreamers and a roadmap to citizenship, opposes a wall, and opposes using the Department of Homeland Security to detain families and children.
Jorge Millares is the founder and executive of Queen City Unity, an organization focused on equity and equality formed after the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in 2016. Queen City Unity objectives include advocating for immigration reform and supporting families with economic mobility challenges.
Recognizing the connection between economic mobility and immigration reform is important, Millares said this week.
“Immigration and economic success of the country go hand in hand 100 percent,” Millares said. “Historically if we look back at history, many times when America is at its best economically is when we welcome immigrants to help us build and create.”
If the Trump administration continues into another term, Millares said, “we will not see enough resources being poured into creating economic freedom for people of color and providing them with true educational resources.” People of color suffer from not having the healthcare they need at federal and state levels, he said, and segregation in Charlotte schools would worsen in a second Trump administration. Immigration research tends to support Millares, including work by the Kauffman Foundation and by the Global Migration Center at the University of California at Davis.
Millares said the Democratic platform is more welcoming of immigrants and provides a pathway for 11 million undocumented immigrants to succeed.
Federico Rios, assistant director of the office of equity, mobility and immigrant integration for the city of Charlotte, connects challenges to upward economic mobility to limitations on resources available to immigrants.
Beyond immigrants, he said, there are not many efforts to ensure that marginalized communities have opportunities to meet specific needs. “There is not a great deal of thoughtfulness on how you support the marginalized communities. When there is (action) it is to their deficit and not to their benefit,” Rios said.
The current pandemic uncovered a lack of resources to those in economic crisis, Rios said. “Before the pandemic, nowhere in this country is there a city where 40 hours on minimum wage can afford your rent.”
Republicans and the Trump administration have damaged the perception of immigrants, Rios said, depicting them as criminals and takers of jobs. In Mecklenburg County, he said, immigrants are responsible for $1.4 billion of gross domestic product.
Democrats also have a spotty record on immigration, Rios said. Barack Obama was seen as the “deporter-in-chief” because he had more deportations than any preceding administration, Rios said. “There has always been a desire to talk up a good game from Democrats,” Rios said. “So it will be interesting to see if they are in office, will they adhere to what their value statements have been up until now, regarding immigration.”
“When we talk about immigration rights, we talk about human rights,” Rios said. “There seems to be a difference that sparks and a thought process that comes to a conclusion that only good people deserve human rights. But all of us deserve human rights.”
Margaret Commins, a professor of political science at Queens University of Charlotte, said immigration reform includes a combination of interior and exterior enforcement. Commins said interior enforcement refers to actions taken with individuals and organizations inside U.S. borders, and exterior enforcement deals with international issues.
“During the Trump administration we have seen interior enforcement of all immigrants without criminal records, and with family ties -- even gone as far as deporting immigrants with green cards,” Commins said. Exterior enforcement during the Trump administration has seen a strong push for a border wall. Immigrants seeking asylum were depicted as a national security issue, rather than a humanitarian issue, she said.
The city of Charlotte has tried to become a more welcoming community to a growing population of immigrants, but it has been a difficult task, Commins said, because immigration is a national issue.
Barnes and Cabrera Barrientos are students in a political reporting seminar at Queens University of Charlotte covering the Republican and Democratic national conventions.