Immigrant-friendly proposals unveiled for Charlotte

An official city-issued photo ID and an Office of New Charlotteans are among the “immigrant-friendly” proposals being unveiled at a public hearing Thursday, before the Charlotte City Council decides whether to adopt all or some of the recommendations in coming months.

Thursday’s presentation is open to the public, and attendees can give reactions to the proposals via written questions for the task force or during a brief open mic session. The Immigrant Integration Task Force, appointed by the city, has spent the past year exploring ways Charlotte can benefit from a growing immigrant population.

About 14 percent of Charlotte’s population is foreign-born, many of them Hispanics. Mecklenburg County’s Hispanic population grew by nearly 11 percent to 125,000 residents between 2010 and 2013 – twice as fast as the white population.

The task force is required to present its findings to the city by Feb. 23. A City Council vote on the recommendations has not yet been scheduled.

Among the more controversial of the proposals is the Charlotte ID, which some claim would give legitimacy to immigrants who are not in the country legally. Another area of concern is who would foot the bill of creating the ID program, which has cost millions of dollars to implement in larger cities.

Charlotte attorney Stefan Latorre is co-chair of the task force, and he says the goal of the proposals is to find a way Charlotte can make the most of being one of the nation’s “new gateway cities” for immigrants. UNC Chapel Hill released a report last year noting immigrants had a $19 billion economic impact on North Carolina, based on 2010 data.

“Some people are into helping immigrants, but not everybody is, and what we have come up with is a plan that is good for everybody,” Latorre said.

“Immigrants are entrepreneurs, and what we’re trying to do is maximize the role of immigrants in Charlotte’s prosperity. Everybody benefits from this. It’s not just proposals to help immigrants, but to enrich all of us culturally and economically.”

To that end, the bulk of the recommendations are aimed at helping immigrant entrepreneurs more easily start and promote their businesses.

Proposed strategies include:

• A “startup row” in a vacant strip mall for immigrant entrepreneurs.

• “International Corridor” grants to market economic development zones for immigrant businesses.

• A “Going Global” campaign that helps local businesses find international markets.

The task force was created by City Council resolution in November 2013, and its members (29 in all) were selected by both the council and the mayor’s office under Patsy Kinsey and later Patrick Cannon.

Current Mayor Dan Clodfelter met with the task force in June and said he supported the idea of a municipal ID.

Among the details city leaders would need to work out is how to pay for the task force recommendations. This includes how to pay for adding bilingual staff for such things as the Office of New Charlotteans. The latter would be staffed with bilingual workers who have community development expertise.

In the case of the municipal ID, participants could be asked to pay a small fee for the ID card. However, the task force says the cost could be subsidized by creating partnerships with cultural institutions, businesses and museums.

The benefits of the ID include helping law enforcement identify individuals who are currently not allowed to have a state driver’s license, supporters say. The cards could also be used for a variety of existing programs, such as library cards and a means of paying for public transportation and parking, officials said.

Emily Zimmern, who co-chaired the task force with Latorre, said many of the recommendations are based on suggestions from the community. The task force also sought the expertise of other cities in the country that have introduced their own immigrant-oriented programs and municipal IDs.

Zimmern said she recognizes that some in the community may be wary of the recommendations.

“Demographic change can be unsettling,” she said. “I think those of us who spent the past year working on this believe that building a more welcoming, immigrant-friendly community offers the potential for Charlotte to be more vibrant.

“We’d like for people to come hear what we’ve proposed (Thursday) and offer feedback that strengthens the recommendations or tells us what might be missing.”

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Immigrant-friendly proposals unveiled for Charlotte
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