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North Carolina's fast-growing Colombian community petitions for a consulate

People wait in line at Charlotte's pop-up Colombian consulate in August 2022.
Lideres Colombianos en Charlotte
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Lideres Colombianos en Charlotte
People wait in line at Charlotte's pop-up Colombian consulate in August 2022.

Among North Carolina’s expanding Latino population, Colombians stand out: The community is growing about seven times as rapidly as the state average.

That growth rate means new bureaucratic challenges, like renewing Colombian passports and registering marriages in a state without a Colombian consulate.

Community groups like Lideres Colombianos en Charlotte say it’s time to establish a dedicated consular service for the more than 46,000 Colombians who reside in North and South Carolina.

In both states, the Colombian community grew by more than 70% from 2011 to 2021. Currently, those residents rely on what community organizer Natalia Silva calls a “mobile consulate,” made available once or twice a year, to access Colombian government services.

On those days, staff from the Colombian consulate in Atlanta travel to Charlotte. Silva says the events are a big deal. Doors open at 6 a.m. and staff begin taking appointments — about 180 of them.

“It's a lot of people. It’s a lot of community. We stay all day and it's around 14 to 20 volunteers, volunteers because we don't have money to pay them,” Silva said.

By the end of the day, Silva says there might be 60 to 70 frustrated people still waiting in line.

“Sometimes we have to [call] the police out and say, ‘Please, let them know there is no more. It's already 7, 8 p.m.’ Because they get mad," she said.

People who don’t get a mobile consulate appointment in Charlotte will have to try their chances in Atlanta, where the Colombian consulate serves residents of seven southern states.

Silva says the Atlanta office doesn’t have the capacity to manage that service area.

“People don't have the opportunity [to see them] because when you try to get an appointment, it's impossible,” she said.

In July, Silva helped deliver a Change.org petition to the ambassador of Colombia in the United States, Luis Gilberto Murillo Urrutia, during Charlotte’s annual Colombian festival. The petition, signed so far by more than 3,000 people, makes a case for opening a consulate in Charlotte.

“He responded with a letter that said he already transferred that petition to Colombia,” Silva said.

His response has sparked hope among organizers like Silva — even if the possibility of a new consulate remains years in the future.

Silva says she’s concerned about serving two groups in particular: older Colombians who may not be able to travel and children who may need documents like birth certificates and passports for the first time.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, many Colombians have left Latin America due to financial and safety concerns. Data from the U.S.-Mexico border shows that encounters with Colombians increased from 6,200 people in 2021 to more than 125,000 people in 2022.

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This story was produced through a collaboration between WFAE and La Noticia. You canread it in Spanishat La Noticia. Puedes leer la nota en español en La Noticia.

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.