Last week, we at the Latin American Coalition held a 2012 Post-Election Press Briefing & Reception at Packard Place, a facility in downtown Charlotte that gives entrepreneurs and creative visionaries space and opportunity to create and innovate. Co-founder, Dan Roselli, welcomed the crowd and shared Packard Place’s three guiding principles: Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Community.
As we look to the kind of Charlotte and North Carolina we want to live in, these principles could also serve as a vision for a prosperous and inclusive community. Packard Place is a living, breathing reminder of how when you give everyday folks an opportunity, they tend to do something remarkable.
However, opportunity is something that is often hard to come by for mixed status immigrant families- folks who work hard for their children and their communities. During the briefing, two of our remarkable activists, Selene Medina and Mary Espinoza, eloquently shared their stories and their struggle for opportunity.
Selene spoke of her personal challenges and limited opportunities as a high-performing student who happens to be undocumented. It is hard to fathom why states like North Carolina continue to require undocumented students- no matter how talented or brilliant- to pay triple tuition rates; a barrier to entry far too high for most immigrant students or families. We are only hurting ourselves, our economies, our communities when we institutionalize poverty for the fastest growing population in our state.
Mary spoke of the deep pain of being a U.S. citizen who worries about what will happen to her undocumented family members- who call Charlotte their home and who are at risk of being deported. Our community can no longer say we support family values and strong economies while simultaneously shattering thousands of families by cruelly and permanently separating mothers, fathers, sons and daughters from their loved ones.
However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. The November 6th election was a marker for the escalating power of the Latino vote. This surging unity and renewed commitment will not cease until we achieve immigration reform that supports equal access to education and keeps our families together.
Furthermore, there is growing consensus that equal access to education is both the right thing and the smart thing to do in our country. 58% of voters in Maryland passed their state’s version of the DREAM Act– becoming the 13th state to allow undocumented students pay instate tuition. This speaks to more than the Latino vote- it speaks to Americans coming together to create opportunity and equity in their communities.
So what about here in North Carolina? What will the coming years look like for us?
It is clear that our voters do not want to walk in the footsteps of extremism. North Carolina will no longer pander to the hate-mongers who are panicked by demographic shifts. North Carolina will no longer abide politicians who dehumanize immigrant families to score political points. We call on our elected officials to seek prosperity and safety- not at the expense of Latino and immigrant families- but as partners with Latino and immigrant families.
The fact is, at 18 years old, Mary and Selene- activists, students, and children of immigrants- have done more for their community than most. It is only right that we demand that those we have elected into office to live up to the example set by Mary and Selene.
The Latin American Coalition is making the following demands of our elected officials:
1. We call on local Charlotte officials to dismantle the 287(g) program which perpetuates racial profiling and tears immigrant families apart.
2. We call on North Carolina officials to abandon their attempts to bring bring economically devastating and unconstitutional Arizona and Alabama-style anti-immigrant policies to our state. Instead we ask them to seek immigrant affirming policies that strengthen our industries, create equal access to education, and support working families.
3. We call on Congress and the President to pass immigration reform, restoring the core principle of family unity and creating a path to legalize the status for hard working immigrants who are contributing to our economy on a daily basis.
Given the demonstrable power of the Latino vote and the increasing support of immigrant-affirming policies around the country, we believe that these demands will be met and achieved if we can come together our around a shared vision of opportunity.