On Aug. 5, organizers with the Latin American Coalition (LAC) held a press conference at their east Charlotte office to discuss the unprecedented number of immigrants who have arrived in Charlotte in recent months.
In a post that day, LAC stated that, beginning in early 2022, the nonprofit began seeing an increase in families coming to Charlotte from detention facilities in Texas. Between May and August, the Latin American Coalition attended to 1,430 people, 531 of them children, according to the organization. Many of those families arrived with no money and no shelter, only the clothes they were wearing on their backs, the post read.
Many of them also arrived with immigration court dates and no representation, and that’s where the Carolina Migrant Network comes in.
We last caught up with Carolina Migrant Network co-founders Stefania Arteaga and Becca O’Neill on a January 2021 episode of our Nooze Hounds podcast, just as they celebrated the one-year anniversary of the organization, which provides free legal representation in immigration bond proceedings to individuals detained by ICE.
Now, as the stakes increase, the Carolina Migrant Network is announcing a new merger that will take effect on Oct. 3, joining with Comunidad Colectiva, a local advocacy organization that was created in 2016 in response to the anti-immigrant rhetoric of that year’s presidential election and the xenophobic policies of the Trump administration.
Having been involved with both organizations since their respective launches, Arteaga will be able to move into a full-time role with the newly expanded Carolina Migrant Network beginning Oct. 3 thanks to a grant from the Four Freedoms Fund.
She said her goal is to merge the missions of the two organizations, allowing Carolina Migrant Network to have access to Comunidad Colectiva’s comparatively larger discretionary fund so as to offer more legal representation while also becoming more involved in advocacy and activism efforts.
Arteaga estimated that Carolina Migrant Network provided legal services to more than 100 clients last year, and because most of those clients are the primary breadwinners for their families, the impact goes much further than them.
“There’s a huge need and we’re the only organization that currently focuses on the population that is detained, that is low-income, people who already cannot even afford an attorney and would otherwise not be able to fight their cases,” Arteaga said.
Many of Carolina Migrant Network’s clients get tied up in the immigration court system for years, including one such man whom CMN helped finally settle a case for in early September. He was originally arrested by ICE in 2020, a week before the first COVID lockdowns. Carolina Migrant Network was able to get a cancellation of removal for the man, so he is no longer at risk of deportation.
His case, however, was relatively quick, as some cases can take as long as 10 years, leaving entire families in limbo.
As of Oct. 3, Arteaga will begin a planning phase for the rebranding of Carolina Migrant Network, which will likely begin its rollout in early 2023.
“The legal component part for now, we’re going to keep it the same, but I think the organizing piece that we’re trying to include and where we’re creating a space for people to take control of their situation by speaking out if they choose to — that is what we’re hoping to do with this merger is create a narrative change around the issue.”
It’s the same narrative that O’Neill and Arteaga discussed on our podcast, they just plan to use their organization as a platform for folks caught up in the system to get a little louder about it now.
“At the end of the day, everyone deserves a fighting chance regardless of their socioeconomic status,” Arteaga said. “So I think that’s what we’re trying to get out there; if we want to make Charlotte home for folks then we have to have the resources and create the space for them to thrive, and that includes expanding legal resources.”