Lawmakers and first steps with immigration reform in 2013

By Armando Bellmas

The Latin American Coalition is optimistic about the plans for immigration reform released this week by both the U.S. Senate and President Obama, setting the stage for a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in our communities. While the remarks from both the Senators and the President are steps in a positive direction, we have some very serious concerns.

Immigration reform is about keeping families together, first and foremost. This ultimate goal is not mentioned in either framework. Families across the country are being torn apart by our country’s current patchwork of failed and mismanaged immigration policies. President Obama’s administration alone has separated more parents from their children through deportation than any other administration. The moral case for immigration reform is overwhelming and getting louder.

Making a path to citizenship contingent on any type of border security and increased enforcement is unnecessary. The United States currently spends more on immigration enforcement and border security than it does on all other federal law enforcement combined, including the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, and ATF. The past 10 years have seen unprecedented and overwhelming increases in the number of border patrol agents, border wall construction, unmanned aerial vehicles and border militarization. Such vigorous enforcement and security, coupled with President Obama’s sharp increase in removals, have decreased undocumented migration into the U.S. Any plan linking citizenship to border security and more enforcement is mere political posturing.

A plan for immigration reform must fairly and equally include the “world’s best and brightest” who receive a PhD or Master’s degree in American universities to the low-skilled, but extremely valuable immigrants who perform the very important and difficult work that Americans are unavailable or unwilling to do. Most of these people have worked very hard for many years and have contributed so much to our economy to earn a path to citizenship. Forcing them to the “back of the line”- an immigration line that, frankly, doesn’t exist– is deferring the details instead of dealing with them now.

A clear and realistic path to citizenship- more fair than tough- will be far more effective in reducing the number of unauthorized immigrants than billions spent on punitive enforcement measures. 2013 must be the year that Congress will pass immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for aspiring Americans. This is because the American people support it; Democrats want it; and Republicans need it. And our movement- which gets stronger every day- stands ready to make sure it happens. This is the right thing to do for the country, and now is the time.

¡Ya es hora!


The Latino vote and where we go from here

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.

La Coalicion will continue to Fight Anti-Immigrant Laws


(June 25, 2012) Today’s announcement by the Supreme Court strikes down most of Arizona’s tough immigration law as an unlawful infringement on federal power. This ruling should serve as a warning to State lawmakers who would seek to enact similar legislation in North Carolina.  States and localities around the country are increasingly rejecting these laws, as divisive, expensive, unworkable and contrary to our values.

While the supreme court has severely limited the Arizona law, by permitting the  “show me your papers” provision to go into effect — a policy which requires police officers to determine whether someone is lawfully present based on undefined “reasonable suspicion” — the Supreme Court has indirectly legitimized racial profiling for U.S. citizens and immigrants alike.  Nevertheless, we are confident that all of this law and others like it will ultimately be struck down as discriminatory racial profiling.

“These anti-immigrant policies are in direct violation of the values of North Carolina and our country as a whole. Sadly, states that have enacted anti-immigrant laws face serious economic and safety consequences as a result of their shortsightedness,” said Jess George, Executive Director of the Latin American Coalition. “North Carolina can do better.”

The Latin American Coalition will continue to advocate for federal comprehensive immigration reform, fight against anti-immigrant legislation in North Carolina, and embark on an unprecedented effort to register members of our community to vote. Lawmakers who champion racial profiling policies will be held accountable. We will not stop fighting for our basic civil rights and challenging unjust laws. We are on the right side of history.


Armando Bellmas / Megan Walsh
Latin American Coalition


The Latin American Coalition is a community of Latin Americans, immigrants and allies that promotes full and equal participation of all people in the civic, economic and cultural life of North Carolina through education, celebration and advocacy

NC Farm bureau speaks out on immigration

This spring, the North Carolina Farm Bureau — one of the state’s largest agriculture organizations — released a video warning North Carolina’s lawmakers about the dangers of passing anti-immigrant legislation in our state.

As the Farmworker Advocacy Network states on their own blog, the message is clear: when agricultural states crack down on immigrant workers, there is a huge cost to farmers and the states’ economies overall.

Just look at what’s happening to the agriculture industries in Alabama and Georgia, two other states that have passed harsh anti-immigrant legislation in the past year.

Numbers Matter

By Armando Bellmas



U.S. Representative Luis Gutiérrez from Illinois recently criticized Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation on the House floor. In the process, Gutiérrez highlighted some facts about Latinos in the United States that are quite amazing and worth sharing.

[Latinos are] growing everywhere.

One-quarter of the children in America are Latino.

500,000 Latinos turn 18 and become eligible to vote every year.

More than 50 million Latinos live in America. Most of us are citizens.

Gutiérrez goes on to talk about the repercussions of Arizona’s, and subsequently Alabama’s, anti-immigration legislation — the kind of “policy to avoid on immigration.” But the main takeaways for me from this speech are the numbers above. They’re staggering and they’re powerful.

For instance, in the 2008 presidential election Barack Obama beat John McCain in North Carolina by 13,692 votes. 2,123,390 to 2,109,698. 13,692 made a difference.

So if we’re going to stop this wave of anti-immigrant legislation in the U.S. — and I truly believe that we can and will — we have to make our voices heard, with our actions, with our dollars, and with our votes.

Numbers matter and we have them