Charlotte becomes the first city in U.S. to sign immigration compact

Updated: Jun. 25, 2019 at 8:05 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (The Charlotte Observer) - Charlotte City Council voted unanimously on Monday to pass an immigration compact, becoming the first city government in the U.S. to adopt this statement of support for the city’s immigrants.

The vote was all but a footnote at the conclusion of a heated, four-hour meeting on a noise ordinance, but council members said the compact is a key step as Charlotte tries to play catch-up in serving its rapidly growing immigrant population.

“We are committed to advocating for common-sense and comprehensive immigration reforms that strengthen our economy and attract talent and business to our city,” the document says.

The compact lacks concrete policy changes — seemingly, to avoid a rebuke from Republicans in the state legislature on this divisive issue. Still, city leaders say it will start a conversation and improve the communication gap with residents who have been skeptical, if not entirely afraid, of government outreach.

“We’re really reinventing the paradigm,” said city council member Matt Newton, who represents the city’s heavily immigrant east side. “What we’ve realized is that many members of the immigrant community are hardworking, productive members of the city of Charlotte, but they also are living in a state of fear from the standpoint of government.”

Following a wave of mass arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in February, leaders in the city’s immigrant communities blasted city council for what they called a slow, insufficient response — if not outright silence.

In the following weeks, Mayor Vi Lyles assembled an ad hoc committee that held eight listening sessions for immigrants across the city in March. The compact is one of the first measures to stem from that effort.

In broad and sometimes vague language, the compact outlines five principles: advocacy for federal immigration reform; support for immigrants’ role in the local economy and workforce; support for all families and children; an inclusive law enforcement strategy; and leadership opportunities for immigrant residents.

The compact does not address legal status — a wording choice that Emily Yaffe, an international relations specialist in the city’s office of Housing & Neighborhood Services, said was intentional.

“Our job is to serve our residents,” she said. “If you live here, you’re a resident.”

While business, civic and religious leaders in other states — including Iowa, Florida, Utah and Texas — have signed onto nearly identical documents, no city has issued its own document — before Charlotte.

Yaffe said the compact will only mean something if it’s used. But, she said, it can act as a kind of sieve when is discussing legislation that may impact Charlotte’s immigrant residents.

“It is a product of us hearing community,” said Federico Rios, the city’s immigrant and integration manager, “and if nothing else, a testament to a time when we heard community.”

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