North Carolina Reflects on Evolving Immigration Climate

With a population of 750,000 and a per capita spending contribution of $27,000, immigrants in North Carolina have made a significant impact on the state. But while the economics of the foreign-born segment adds significant fuel to the state, the rapid influx of the immigrant population—a growth of 551 percent between 1990 and 2013— also translates to communities in North Carolina struggling with ethnic diversity.

Some North Carolina cities are far ahead of the state as a whole in absorbing immigrant growth. Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, according to The Charlotte Observer, have seen their immigrant population grown by as much as 1,000 percent.

Of the three-quarter million immigrants living in the state, 350,000 are undocumented.

The rapid change in the state’s demographics adds a fair amount of pressure to native residents. The Charlotte Observer reports a study showing “interracial trust is substantially lower in ethnically diverse communities due to ethnic tensions.” Specifically, “Charlotte, Greensboro and Winston-Salem ranked high in faith-based engagement, charitable giving and volunteering,” the report says, “but relatively low on social and inter-racial trust.” The reported findings come from Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam’s “Social Capital Survey.”

In an effort to find solutions to build trust relationships between communities, the cities of Charlotte, Raleigh, High Point and Greenville have joined national initiative Welcoming Cities and Counties. Participants commit to developing institutionalized strategies to ensure the “ongoing inclusion and long-term economic and social integration of newcomers.” To this end, Welcoming Cities representatives collaborate with the immigrant community around problematic issues and concerns; work with their respective police departments to conduct language and cultural awareness and also to recruit ethnically diverse and bilingual officers; and to build networks with area service providers for the support of immigrants.

While major cities in the state have adopted the federal Welcoming Cities model, the state’s legislature passed a resolution that prohibits cities from establishing community trust policies—“sanctuary city” status; or from accepting foreign government identification, which is a common national practice. Already signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, police also have the authority to jail anyone who can’t verify their identification—regardless of how minor the offense is.

The Observer notes that “in addition to straining local law enforcement resources, there is also a risk that these measures could negatively affect the business climate,” drawing a comparison to similar measures that passed in Arizona. Backlash for the state was the departure of Latino businesses as well as a boycott policy from some national corporations.