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As Title 42 ends, Charlotte nonprofits call for support to assist newly-arrived migrants

  Attorney Jamilah Espinosa speaks about Charlotte's strained immigration resources during a press conference on Wednesday.
Kayla Young
WFAE/La Noticia
Attorney Jamilah Espinosa speaks about Charlotte's strained immigration resources during a press conference on Wednesday, May 9, 2023.

Today marks the end of Title 42, the Trump-era public health policy used to expel millions of people at the U.S.-Mexico border. That could mean more people entering the country to seek asylum.

Charlotte-area nonprofits say they’re already seeing an increase in new arrivals from the border and more support is needed to provide emergency services.

The Latin American Coalition says in recent months, their office has received about five immigrant families a week who are in critical need. Some are facing homelessness, and many lack connections in the Charlotte area.

José Hernández-Paris, the coalition's executive director, says the situation has put a strain on resources and led to burnout among staff.

“The reason Mecklenburg County hasn't seen … immigrant families on the street is because all of these organizations have stepped in,” Hernández-Paris said Wednesday during a press conference at the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. “Slowly, people are arriving. We are placing people in different spaces and trying to get them established so that they can move on.”

In January, the Latin American Coalition was allocated $2 million in American Rescue Plan funding by Mecklenburg County. The funds came in anticipation of Title 42’s end and the possibility of more people seeking asylum in the U.S.

Since then, Hernández-Paris says they’ve served about 1,700 people, of which roughly 40% percent were children.

“The most emergent, highest and critical need is preventing homelessness because once they fall into that category, it just becomes more difficult for these families,” he said.

International House, which largely services immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Europe, also reported a spike in arrivals. Director Autumn Weil said about twice as many people have been seeking their services this year.

And it’s not just arrivals from the border that has immigrant-serving organizations under stress.

Attorney Jamilah Espinosa says hostile immigration policies in states like Florida mean that many people will be looking to relocate to places perceived as friendlier.

“We're talking about people that are already calling the United States home but are undocumented, may not be in immigration proceedings now, but are fearful living in their state,” Espinosa said.

She warned that North Carolina is a difficult place for newly arrived immigrants to become established as well. It could take years to access a work permit or establish a Social Security number. In the meantime, immigrants are largely on their own.

“You won't be eligible for a driver's license and most undocumented individuals in the state of North Carolina are ineligible for any type of social services. So, that is Medicaid or food stamps,” she said.

Espinosa added that Charlotte’s immigration court, which serves all of North Carolina and South Carolina, is one of the most difficult in the country for asylum applicants.

“Each judge has a different denial rate,” she said. “But when you look at it overall, you're at about a 95% statistical rate of denial on your asylum case before the immigration court here in Charlotte.”

Even when applicants succeed in establishing asylum, she says the process takes about a decade to adjudicate.

The Charlotte court currently has about 74,000 pending immigration cases. The backlog has been growing rapidly for the past seven years. In 2016, Charlotte had closer to 6,500 pending cases.

Attorney Sharon Dove says asylum claims could become even more difficult to win under a transit ban set to take effect at the same time Title 42 ends. The policy would deny most asylum applications from people who crossed through another country without seeking asylum before attempting to enter the U.S.

“That will completely gut asylum law, the transit ban,” Dove said. “It is anticipated that multiple immigration groups are going to file litigation to stay the ban and hopefully get it rescinded.”

Dove says she doesn’t think the restrictions will decrease the number of people arriving, but it could complicate asylum cases further. That could mean more people waiting in line for even longer periods of time.

Espinosa and Hernández-Paris called on the federal and state governments to provide support on the local level to help communities manage the humanitarian demand.

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Kayla Young is a Report for America corps member covering issues involving race, equity, and immigration for WFAE and La Noticia, an independent Spanish-language news organization based in Charlotte. Major support for WFAE's Race & Equity Team comes from Novant Health and Wells Fargo.