The city of Charlotte announced a schedule of community engagement meetings for its newly formed Immigrant Community Committee on Thursday morning, hoping to begin a trust-building process that was called into question just hours later after news of a meeting that was not publicly announced.
Mayor Vi Lyles called for the formation of the ICC following a February city council meeting at which advocates passionately demanded council members do more to support the immigrant community in the wake of recently ramped up actions by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in Charlotte.
The committee consists of council members James Mitchell, Matt Newton and Dimple Ajmera, with Larken Egleston serving as chair. The committee aims to create a dialogue with the immigrant community and assuage fears that exist toward city government within that community.
However, the ICC got off to a rocky start by Thursday afternoon after WSOC’s Joe Bruno reported that members had met on Monday without serving public notice that they were doing so, provoking backlash and questions about transparency from constituents on social media.
Queen City Nerve has since confirmed Bruno’s reporting that the meeting was attended by all four committee members as well as city council member Braxton Winston, Lyles and city staff.
On Friday morning, Ajmera said that she questioned the lack of public notice for the meeting, but was turned down by Egleston.
“I opposed it, and as a first-generation immigrant, I was offended that we did not have immigrants in the room while we were talking about immigration topics in general,” Ajmera told Queen City Nerve. “That being said, after I expressed opposition, the chair defended it and we were asked to continue.”
When asked about the meeting, Egleston said that neither he nor anyone in attendance was aware the meeting wasn’t made public when they arrived, and when the issue was brought up during the meeting, city staff discussed shortly whether notice should have been given publicly.
“It was pointed out — there was just the thought tossed out that it should have been noticed as a public meeting and a staff member said, ‘We didn’t realize, that’s our fault,’” Egleston recalled. “Nobody said we shouldn’t have this discussion.”
Following Bruno’s revelation, the city released a statement admitting that public notice should have been called for Monday’s meeting.
“As the city worked to execute the mayor’s charge to form an ad hoc committee, a planning session with staff that occurred Monday, in hindsight, should have been advertised as a public committee meeting,” the statement read.
According to Egleston and the city, Monday’s meeting was for information-gathering purposes, letting committee members and other staff know when and where community outreach meetings would take place and how they would be formatted. There was no agenda, votes or action taken, which is why Egleston said he didn’t think much of it until questions arose on Thursday night.
“The decisions that are made and the actions that come out of this committee are not going to be made by this committee, and they’re not going to be made in any meetings of this committee,” Egleston said. “They’re going to be made in the community engagement sessions that we were outlining in that discussion that day. So if people want to be a part of the work that this committee is going to do, and a part of helping shape the outcomes of this committee’s work, that will all take place at these community engagement sessions, and that’s the whole point.”
The community outreach meetings begin on Saturday with an Immigrant Business Outreach Fair from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday at Inspira on Monroe Road. That will be followed by community outreach meetings in each district, the schedule for which is listed below.
A number of activists, advocates and business leaders from the immigrant community met with city leaders on Thursday night to discuss the city’s response to immigration enforcement in the city.
“Charlotte community advocates met with Mayor Vi Lyles and city officials to convey the community’s frustrations regarding the city government’s reaction to the recent escalation of Immigration Customs Enforcement actions,” read a statement from the group following the meeting. “Advocates presented initial recommendations to city representatives on how not only to support but to protect our immigrant community and undocumented neighbors.”
Though members of the group refused to comment on or specify what was discussed in the meeting, one of the members — speaking separately from the group — did tell Queen City Nerve that they hope the upcoming meetings will be made welcoming to members of the immigrant community, many of whom are fearful of leaving their house, let alone attending government-sponsored events.
Egleston said that fear was taken into consideration when planning the community outreach meetings.
“We’re very conscious of that,” he said. “That’s a big part of the reason why these are located where they’re located. These were intentionally located in places that are familiar to and comfortable for the immigrant community, so that’s why they’re not at the government center. That’s why they’re going to be held in Spanish with translation available for folks who will need it. A large part of the planning process of these sessions was to make sure that people felt like they could be there, they could be safe, they would be welcomed and could be open and honest with us in sharing their opinions and their concerns and what their needs are.”
Ajmera said she is optimistic about the upcoming meetings and looks forward to seeing what recommendations and suggestions the community has.
“We are looking forward to building trust with our immigrant neighbors,” Ajmera said. “We have a lot to do when it comes to building trust and accountability.”
The scheduled ICC community outreach events are as follow:
Immigrant Business Outreach Resource Fair
Saturday, March 9, 9–11 a.m.
Inspira, 3909 Monroe Road
District 4 Immigrant Community Committee Meeting
Thursday, March 14, 7–9 p.m.
Charlotte Bilingual Preschool, 6300 Highland Ave.
District 7 Immigrant Community Committee Meeting
Saturday, March 16, 9–11 a.m.
Morrison YMCA, 9405 Bryant Farms Road
District 2 Immigrant Community Committee Meeting
Tuesday, March 19, 6–8 p.m.
Johnson C. Smith University, 100 Beatties Ford Road
District 3 Immigrant Community Committee Meeting
Thursday, March 21, 8–10 p.m.
Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, 6212 Tuckaseegee Road
District 6 Immigrant Community Committee Meeting
Tuesday, March 26, 6–8 p.m.
Harris YMCA, 5900 Quail Hollow Road
District 5 Immigrant Community Committee Meeting
Thursday, March 28, 6–8 p.m.
Camino Community Center, 201 Stetson Drive
District 1 Immigrant Community Committee Meeting
Saturday, March 30, 9–11 a.m.
ourBRIDGE for KIDS, 3925 Willard Farrow Drive