As migrant arrivals increase, Charlotte charities prepare — and share in Thanksgiving
This is part two of a series. Read part one here.
Getting around town isn’t easy for Karina, a 36-year-old Venezuelan migrant who arrived in the Charlotte area this summer.
Her two older children get to school by bus. And sometimes neighbors offer rides to the Dollar Store.
But for most errands, Karina walks. As an asylum seeker at the beginning of a years-long immigration process, she doesn’t qualify for a driver’s license in North Carolina.
There aren’t any public bus stops near the trailer where Karina and her family have been living on the outskirts of Kannapolis, and the walk to town takes about an hour.
“But we have to,” she said. “We have to fend for ourselves.”
She sees it as part of the sacrifice to start a new life in the United States. A few months ago, Karina, her husband and their three children were homeless — and walking from charity to charity in Charlotte to find help.
That’s how they ended up at the Latin American Coalition.
Preparing for the end of Title 42
José Hernández-Paris, the Coalition's director, is worried the city will soon face thousands of cases like Karina’s — individuals with no local contacts and in need of substantial support.
“Right now, we're having to change our services as if we're a border state. We're having to adapt how we deliver, who we deliver the services to,” Hernández-Paris said. “We're going to have to select the highest need, which is going to leave some families out.”
Hernández-Paris’ fear of a significant migrant wave affecting Charlotte is not unfounded. In about a month, the U.S. is expected to end the use of Title 42, the emergency health order implemented under the Trump administration to turn away asylum seekers at the border.
The end of the policy could result in thousands of additional asylum claims a day from individuals blocked until now from crossing into the U.S.
“What's interesting is that we had a conversation with the Department of Homeland Security, with their ICE office a few days ago, and they told us, you know, we're looking for places in the interior that may host more families,” Hernández-Paris said. “The NGOs across the border are full, and ICE is trying to help them locate places where they can send people.”
The caller wanted to know how many thousands of migrants the Coalition would be able to take in.
“We're scared in the sense that we're already up to capacity,” Hernández-Paris said. “At any moment, this could be multiplied ten times. So, I'm talking with the county and the city and partners to see how we can be prepared as much as we can so that we are proactively helping these families.”
Searching for assistance
When Karina and her family arrived at the Coalition’s office in July, they were one of hundreds of cases — not thousands. And even then, finding resources was difficult.
As Venezuelans, they had been permitted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border this summer and pursue their asylum cases. But they were out of money, and they had never heard of Charlotte —the city assigned to them by border patrol agents in Texas.
“We looked at each other like, what’s Charlotte? Who's in Charlotte? No one,” she said.
They thought, at least, that they would be able to find shelter here.
At bus stations, they connected with charity groups that helped them get tickets to North Carolina. Once in Charlotte, they were greeted by a Good Samaritan at the Greyhound bus station, where they spent their first night.
Karina saw how the woman went above and beyond to search for help. She made phone calls. She contacted charities. She wrote her contacts on social media. But she wasn’t able to find anywhere the family could sleep. She suggested a local church, but they couldn’t get the help they needed there either.
So, the family started walking to other charities that Karina and her husband found using their cell phone.
“We’d already been walking for days, so this was nothing,” she said.
They ended up at theCoalition, where they encountered more people who were willing to go above and beyond. They were offered food and drink.
“They were looking everywhere but getting stuck, too,” Karina said. “At one point, they said they couldn’t do much. Their hands were tied.”
Everywhere they tried, they came up short.
That’s when her husband’s phone buzzed. A friend had a contact who knew another immigrant family in the Charlotte area, and they could offer housing.
“We finally felt calm, knowing that night we could rest, and we’d be able to settle in,” she said. “God tested us, but he got us here in a different way.”
That message is how they ended up in Kannapolis, far from most services, but with a roof over their heads.
On one side of the trailer, the family shares a bedroom with three mattresses. On the other side, a teenage construction worker occupies a second room.
While days at the trailer can be long and lonely for Karina, on weekends they get visits from the immigrant family who owns the property. The wife and children come over to catch up and check on them.
For important appointments, such as meetings with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they’ll make a day out of traveling to Charlotte.
Saturday was one of those days. The family called in a favor to a contact who drives a taxi so they could attend the Coalition’s first migrant Thanksgiving.
They were among about 100 newly arrived migrants invited to the office to access free health checks, winter clothes and food.
Hernández-Paris said the day was also about early intervention to prevent migrants from falling victim to scams and crime.
“People take advantage of people that are desperate. So, we're trying to intervene,” he said. “A lot of this is, let's intervene before they become victims. That’s why even CMPD is here.”
There’s also a major need for mental health services.
“There are unspoken traumas because they're very personal,” Hernández-Paris said. “One of them is sexual violence. We’re realizing that a large number of the women have gone through some sort of sexual violence.”
The needs are so immense that the Coalition staff is feeling the strain as well.
“One staff manager was explaining what she does to the county manager. She started crying,” he said. “It's a bit overwhelming and they're scared …They call me sometimes and it's 5:30 and we have a family here. We have nowhere to send them.”
Hernández-Paris said he’s hopeful the county will recognize the growing need and step up to offer support. Prior to the meeting, the county’s housing and homelessness division indicated they had no knowledge of any official role the county was playing in addressing migrant needs.
WFAE has compiled a list of area resources for Latino Immigrants here.