Thursday, April 30, 2009

Charlotte: Under the microscope

Charlotte's rapid immigration growth continues to draw attention from those looking to understand the country's changing demographics.

We reported this week on a new report by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars that stated Latino immigrants feel alienated in Charlotte because of increasingly hostile public opinion and greater immigration enforcement.

Here is a copy of the 25-page report, “Charlotte: A Welcome Denied."

Interestingly, the Wilson Center report came on the heels of similar report by the Southern Poverty Law Center that found low-income Latinos living in Charlotte -- regardless of their status -- are routinely the targets of wage theft, racial profiling and other abuses due to an anti-immigrant climate “encouraged by politicians and media figures who scapegoat immigrants.”

It's unclear why the two studies came out so closely together, but it shows that the immigration debate continues to gain steam. It also shows, as experts have predicted, that Charlotte is becoming a place to study how America addresses issues of growth and community in the 21st century.

Mecklenburg County has one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the country. It has jumped from nearly 7,000 people in 1990 to more than 80,000 in 2007. Many arrived illegally.

Law center researchers interviewed about 100 people in Charlotte, for the report "Under Siege: Life for Low Income Latinos in the South." Legal residents, illegal immigrants and U.S. citizens were interviewed, the authors said.

Excerpts from the report about Charlotte:
Janet, a Latina teen living in Charlotte, told researchers she endures taunts in school, even though she is a U.S. citizen.

“[T]hey’ll be like, ‘Oh well, you’re just Mexican, go back to Mexico.’ You know, ‘Learn English,’” she said. “I am not even Mexican. I am very proud of my background but it bothers me, the stereotypes.”

When Charlotte was known as a welcoming city for immigrants, it was at a time when it needed immigrant hands to build its skyline. More than one advocate noted how Latino immigrants “built this city” and that “undocumented hands” were responsible for many of the homes, skyscrapers and marble floors.

However, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed public sentiment as illegal immigration became a security issue. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff ’s Office also implemented a 287(g) program, an agreement that allowed the department to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

This program has been credited with fueling anti-immigrant sentiment. Talk radio in the city has been cited as a force in changing the perception of Latino immigrants from a community that helped build a better city to one that threatens the city itself.

The SPLC also released the following survey results from Charlotte interviews:
  • More than half (52 percent) of the survey respondents said there is racism when looking for a house in this area.
  • 66 percent said their willingness to speak to police has been affected by the county sheriff ’s 287(g) agreement with ICE.
  • 28 percent said they have performed work for which they were not paid.
  • 73 percent of those surveyed said they believe Latinos receive different treatment on the job.
  • Nearly half of those surveyed (48 percent) said women were treated differently than men on the job.

Photos: Southern Poverty Law Center

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

After UNC melee, Tancredo stopped from speaking at Rhode Island college

Two weeks after student protesters blocked former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo from speaking about illegal immigration at UNC Chapel Hill, Providence College announced that it would not allow the immigration opponent from speaking on its Rhode Island campus.

The Roman Catholic college said in a statement Monday that the student group that planned to host Tancredo, a conservative Republican who ran for president rather than seek a sixth term in Congress, was not officially sanctioned, according to the Associated Press. The statement added that Tancredo's stance on illegal immigration "directly contrasts" with that of Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, a member of the college's Board of Trustees.

Terry Gorman, founder of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, said the college is being hypocritical because it has hosted politicians with pro-choice views.

Two weeks ago, UNC Chapel Hill police used pepper spray to clear student protesters who crowded into school building where the former congressman was speaking against in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Students smashed a window and stood in front of Tancredo with a large banner that said "No One Is Illegal."

UNC officials later apologized to Tancredo.

Tancredo was invited to speak at UNC Chapel Hill by the Youth for Western Civilization, which opposes multiculturalism and mass immigration. This video, taken by the Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, of the UNC protest was posted on its website.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Opponents call Dream Act a “bad dream”

We reported last week that some colleges want congress to give illegal immigrants tuition help and a path to citizenship. The College Board, made up of 5,000 schools, issued a report "Young Lives on Hold: The College Dreams of Undocumented Students". It calls for passage of the Dream Act, federal legislation that would open up in-state college tuition, financial aid and legal status to as many as 360,000 illegal immigrants nationwide with high school degrees.

The blog post set off a wave of emotional comments. I asked Ron Woodard of NC Listen, which advocates for stronger enforcement of our immigration laws, why the Dream Act and the access to colleges issue draws such a charged response.

This is what he told me:
For people who call me and email me, the Dream Acts gets people more riled up than any other issue. People look at the Dream Act and they see it as a bad dream. They say it's harder and harder for our children to get into college. Yes, there is competition and that is the way it should be. But why should our children have to compete with people who shouldn’t be here?

...People really do see that likelihood that someone is going to be pushed out from the bottom. It might not be their child, but someone is going to get pushed out of the bottom by someone who shouldn’t be here in the first place. And, once they graduate, where are they going to work? It’s against the law to hire them.

Woodard later sent me an email elaborating on some of his points. An excerpt:
If an illegal immigrant remains in the USA long enough to graduate high school, one is then an adult and can return to their native Country to attend college or trade school to better themselves. The US Supreme Court did not rule illegal immigrants could stay in the USA. The ruling simply said illegal immigrant dependents could go to K-12 public schools as long as they were here or until deported. This is another example of how granting privileges to illegal immigrants simply leads to the expectation of more privileges.

Gumecindo Salas of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities and Ira Mehlman of the Federation For American Immigration Reform debate the merits of the Dream Act on CNN.

Friday, April 24, 2009

How many illegal immigrants?

I’m often asked how many illegal immigrants live in North Carolina? And how many live in the United States?

It’s tough to answer. One estimate, among many:

* 350,000 illegal immigrants in North Carolina
* 11.9 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

The one above is from the non-partisan Pew Hispanic Center, one of the most respected think tanks that studies the immigrant community. And even Pew's experts caution that the margin of error is large.

Jeffrey Passel, the center’s senior demographer said the real number is probably somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 in North Carolina.

One of the cool things about blogs, is we can give you more information that we would otherwise not be able to fit in the newspaper.

Some of you likely read our story last week on how unprecedented flood of illegal immigrants into North Carolina had come to a dramatic halt.

You may also be interested in taking a look at Pew's report "A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States," which prompted my story and many similar ones across the country.

Some of the interesting findings:
  • In 2006, the Pew Hispanic Center estimated 390,000 illegal immigrants lived in North Carolina. The center says the number was about 350,000 in 2008. “What it looks like is that North Carolina's numbers have stopped growing,” said Jeffrey Passel, the center's senior demographer and the report's author.
  • More than half of the foreign-born population in North Carolina is in the country illegally.
  • North Carolina now ranks ninth in the number of illegal immigrants.
  • Nearly 3 out of 4 children of illegal immigrants are U.S. citizens.
  • U.S. and foreign-born children of illegal immigrants make up an estimated 6.8 percent of the nation's K-12 students.
  • 76 percent of illegal immigrants are Latino.
  • A third of the children of illegal immigrants live in poverty – nearly double the rate for children of U.S.-born parents.
  • Illegal immigrants are more likely than U.S.-born residents or legal immigrants to live in a household with a spouse and children.

College Board: Give illegal immigrants a chance

A group of colleges and universities has decided to jump into the illegal immigration debate. The College Board, made up of 5,000 schools, wants Congress to give illegal immigrants tuition help and a path to citizenship. The board released a report Tuesday that called for passage of the Dream Act, federal legislation that would open up in-state college tuition, financial aid and legal status to many illegal immigrants in the U.S.

In the report, "Young Lives on Hold: The College Dreams of Undocumented Students", the board makes its first public push after states in recent years have moved to bar illegal immigrants from paying in-state tuition and, in some cases such as the Carolinas, enrolling in their public colleges:
Currently trapped in a legal paradox, undocumented students in the United States have the right to a primary and secondary school education, but then face uncertainty upon graduation from high school. While some states explicitly allow undocumented students to attend college, there are many confusing, gray areas that cloud the college admissions, financial aid and enrollment processes.
"This is a new area for us, but it was an easy call," Thomas W. Rudin, a senior vice president for the College Board, told the Associated Press.

Those who seek greater enforcement of immigration laws, such as Federation for American Immigration Reform, say illegal immigrants -- because many are on the lower end of the economic scale – will usurp most of the need-based financial aid.

"It's a massive amnesty effort being laid for this fall," Bob Dane, a spokesman for the federation, told the AP.

At the N.C. Community College system, school officials changed its longtime practice of allowing illegal immigrants to enroll in any of its 58 campus. Out-of-state tuition is about $7,000 a year, while the cost of instruction for a student is less than $5,400.

The policy is currently under review. A consultant who was hired by the two-year system reported this month that the colleges could profit from admitting illegal immigrants at out-of-state rates.

Megen George, a spokeswoman for the two-year system, told the Observer that board members needed time to review the 136-page report and are expected to discuss it when the board reconvenes at its May 14 and May 15 meetings.

Check out the report here. You can also read parts of the report in Spanish, which my colleague Rogelio Aranda noted in his blog, Entérese.

Additional findings:
  • About 360,000 illegal immigrants nationwide with high school degrees could qualify for the tuition aid.
  • An estimated 5 percent to 10 percent of the 65,000 illegal immigrants who graduate from high school each year go to college.
  • South Carolina bans illegal immigrants from enrolling at any of its public colleges, and Alabama blocks them from its two-year colleges. Missouri and Virginia are also considering laws that deny enrollment.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ain't the NYC, but the Clt is pretty diverse

A lot of folks say Charlotte is no New York or Los Angeles when it comes to diversity. That’s true, but I got to tell you it's changing everyday.

Approximately 1 out of 8 Mecklenburg County residents was born in another country, based on the latest Census figures.

More than 120 different languages are spoken in Charlotte. The city is represented by residents from 150 countries.

Immigrants have driven much of the recent growth in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg region. Since 1990, more than 320,000 people have moved to the area, according to census data. Many were laborers and professionals attracted by affordable homes and open jobs in construction, high-technology, and banking.

The changes have been so great that The Levine Museum of the New South decided to dedicate a year-long exhibit to how Charlotte has become a magnet for newcomers from around the globe.

Exhibit organizers say future historians may look to Charlotte as an example of how the United States addresses issues of growth and community in the early 21st century.

While the majority of immigrants come from Latin America and Asia, a recent report by the Center for an Urban Future noted that many of the newcomers made stops in the Northeast before landing in Charlotte.

Most immigrants came from these five countries.

* Mexico 23,203
* India 6,049
* El Salvador 5,388
* Vietnam 4,888
* China 3,110

Welcome to This Land

In just the past week, President Barack Obama has visited Mexico. His administration has picked a “border czar” to handle illegal immigration and border issues.

The president has said he wants to reopen the debate on immigration reform this year – giving hope to pro-immigrant groups and raising concerns of a possible “amnesty” among those who want stronger enforcement.

While the economy is no doubt the administration’s top priority, the president -- with his words and actions – has helped keep the immigration debate alive. Like many of you, we have taken notice.

But it’s not just the president talking about immigration:
  • A record 1,046,539 people (nearly half were Latino) became new citizens last year, a 58 percent increase from 2007.

  • A new report by the Pew Hispanic Center shows the flood of illegal immigrants has slowed in the United States – and may have decreased in North Carolina – due to the bad economy and enforcement.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported 369,049 people in fiscal 2008 -- the most in any year in U.S. history.
As the immigration debate begins to heat up, we plan to increase our coverage on this challenging issue with a new blog.

This Land will complement our regular coverage published in the paper and online. We’ll bring you new voices and analysis. We’ll point you toward other interesting stories, studies, photography, and videos.

As the main author of this blog, my goal is to find the balance between the fact that the United States is both a country made of immigrants and a nation of laws.

The comments section is open. This is an emotional topic, but I don’t see why we can’t have a healthy, spirited dialogue without it becoming a forum for name calling and side-bashing.

So, send your thoughts and ideas. And if I may quote one of my esteemed colleagues and fellow bloggers, please “keep it clean, keep it civil, and keep it witty whenever possible.”

Photos: John Simmons/Observer, Associated Press