Charlotte’s immigrant-friendly policies were singled out for praise last week by the White House, even as the North Carolina General Assembly looks for ways to punish the city for initiatives perceived as supporting undocumented immigrants.
The city was among 50 communities across the nation that were honored at a White House ceremony Thursday, organized by the White House Task Force on New Americans and the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. High Point was the only other Carolinas city included among the 50.
“The local governments being honored today represent the leading edge of a growing movement that recognizes that being more welcoming to all residents, including immigrants, is not only the right thing to do, but smart policy for economic growth,” said David Lubell, executive director of the Welcoming America, a national nonprofit that was part of the White House effort that named the 50 cities.
Charlotte was singled out specifically for its Immigrant Integration Task Force, which federal officials cited as an “innovative” model for including immigrants on local boards and commissions. The city’s task force included representatives of African, Asian, and Central and South American immigrants. The group spent a year exploring ways Charlotte can benefit from its growing immigrant population and eventually issued a series of proposals.
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Several of the proposals were met with criticism from state officials, particularly the proposed municipal identification card. A state law was eventually passed to ban so-called sanctuary city policies that were deemed friendly to undocumented immigrants, including municipal IDs.
Among the task force’s other proposals: creating a “startup row” in a vacant strip mall for immigrant entrepreneurs and a “Going Global” campaign that helps local businesses find international markets. Also proposed was creating “International Corridor” grants to market economic development zones for immigrant businesses.
Federal officials acknowledged Charlotte’s challenge with state leaders, and said others among 50 communities on the list have faced similar obstacles.
The city was represented at the White House by Alexis Gordon, Charlotte’s international relations manager and chief of protocol.
“What Charlotte is doing is not about making a sanctuary city or singling out a group. It’s about integration,” said Gordon. “It’s about how you make people feel like they are part of the community, because when they feel like they belong, they will contribute.”
Mecklenburg County’s Hispanic growth rate continues to boom, census data show. The nonwhite Hispanic population grew 14.8 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s more than double the white growth rate. Hispanics are now 12.7 percent of Mecklenburg’s population, an estimated 128,473 people among 1.01 million residents.
There are no estimates of how many immigrants are in the Charlotte community illegally, but advocates say its in the thousands.