Charlotte City Council will be presented a list of 27 strategies Monday that are designed to help the city reap more economic benefits from the community’s rapidly growing immigrant population.
Created over the past year by the city-appointed Immigrant Integration Task Force, the list includes policies that aim to make it easier for immigrants to live and work in Charlotte and to increase their success at starting businesses.
A council vote on the recommendations is not expected Monday, nor is there a guarantee any of the proposals will be adopted, officials said.
Stefan Latorre, co-chair of the task force, says his message to the council Monday will include a warning that other cities are ahead of Charlotte in adopting similar immigrant-friendly policies, and they are seeing positive results.
“While the most focus seems to be on undocumented immigrants, we have a large, educated immigrant workforce in Charlotte doing highly skilled jobs that benefit the economy,” Latorre said.
“The purpose of these recommendations is to maximize those economic and civic contributions. We need to sustain our growth and prosperity, and when it comes to immigrants, we are competing for them with places like Atlanta, Nashville and Boston.”
One of the 27 strategies is the creation of an official Charlotte ID that could be used as identification for social or legal needs, such as reporting a crime to police. It would be voluntary, not mandatory.
A coalition has already been created to promote the ID plan, and members of that group are expected to address the council Monday. The plan will be presented to the council at its 5 p.m. dinner meeting, and the public can weigh in at the regular 6:30 meeting.
The ID card is controversial because it also will be available to Charlotte residents who may not be in the country legally. The card would not be recognized by North Carolina or local law enforcement as a driver’s license.
Charlotte’s Latin American Coalition has taken a lead in trying to broaden support for the ID. However, organizers say election-year politics could slow things down in coming months.
“Our message to the City Council will be that we can’t wait. We can’t kick the can down the road,” said Lacey Williams of the Latin American Coalition.
“It’s something the community needs now. Law enforcement needs it now. The task force spent over a year studying immigrant integration issues and looking for best practices around the country, and there’s no reason not to move forward.”
Agencies working together
The municipal ID coalition began meeting weeks ago, including a March 11 gathering of representatives from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Episcopal Church, Action NC, the Homeless Services Network of Charlotte and Legal Services of Southern Piedmont.
Experts say benefits of the ID could include the potential to bring more immigrants into cultural venues – such as museums, concert halls and theaters – which are considering free memberships and other perks for municipal ID holders.
The IDs also could benefit hospital and emergency room staffs, as well as educational programs for kids too young to have a driver’s license, say advocates.
Emily Zimmern of the Levine Museum of the New South was part of the task force, and she said she hopes to play a role in promoting the ID program. However, she said she didn’t want to single it out at this early stage, fearing that might “diminish the importance of the other proposals.”
“It’s essential that we demonstrate how the 27 proposed strategies provide a comprehensive framework for maximizing immigrants’ economic and civic contributions,” Zimmern said.
“After the presentation … I look forward to convening fellow museum directors to explore how we can make our institutions more welcoming and accessible in a number of ways, including participation with the proposed community ID.”
A boon for the arts
Cities around the country, including New York, have introduced such IDs, with strong support of their arts communities.
Like Zimmern, arts leaders elsewhere have seen the value of tapping into immigrants who can use their municipal ID cards to get discounts or free memberships. In some cities, advocates are also working to make the cards useable for accessing public transportation and even as debit cards.
Plans remain vague on what shape a Charlotte ID card would take, but immigrant advocates hope that it could be accepted by local police and CMS to identify immigrant parents who want to volunteer in schools.
Among the things to be worked out in the future is a cost for the ID program and who will supply the money.