Since May, as many as 1,400 people migrating from the Mexico border in Texas have arrived in Charlotte, leaving local organizations stretched thin with efforts to assist them, according to two nonprofits.
The Latin American Coalition held a press conference Friday at its headquarters, alongside the Alliance of Venezuelans in Charlotte, with a plea to the city and the community to assist with the influx of families.
“The reason we’re here is because we’ve experienced since May an increase of individuals arriving to Charlotte who have come through the border ... and have been arriving in conditions that are very difficult for those families,” José Hernández-Paris, executive director of Latin American Coalition, said.
The spike in families arriving in Charlotte started in January, leading the organization to start tracing the numbers more closely in May. Most are coming from Venezuela — some 740 people, including 272 children and 468 adults recorded — about two adults for every one child. The remaining 691, many with children, came from Colombia, Nicaragua and Cuba, the coalition said.
Their reasons for coming to the Queen City are two-fold.
First, many are hoping to establish themselves and become American citizens. The second reason is because Charlotte has an immigration court. Migrant families appear for claims to citizenship, have their cases heard or are granted any form of possible relief.
“We’re finding ourselves in a situation where our capacity (has) exceeded the limit,” Hernández-Paris said. “So we’re reaching out to other immigrant families, immigrant communities, and other groups that are here, like the Venezuelan alliance, to help as many families as we can.”
The influx also comes amid a New York Times report about Republican governors in Texas and Arizona attempting “to offload” increasing levels of migration at the border by busing families to other states. Several of the families who traveled by Greyhound have said government officials directed them to another U.S. city upon arriving at the border, according to Alba Sanchez, Immigrant Welcome Center manager for the Latin American Coalition.
“Most of the families that we have seen, they are coming from Texas,” Sanchez said.
Speakers cautioned they did not know who exactly is paying for the trips. But families have shared they’re being told by Texas officials they are not allowed to stay at the border for more than a couple of days.
Sanchez said her organization has reached out to Roof Above, Salvation Army, and the Urban Ministry Center in an effort to seek shelter for the families, but have found difficulty finding spaces.
Representatives from Roof Above, an interfaith nonprofit that works to end homelessness, declined to comment at this time.
Another challenge has been finding shelters that will keep families together. Sanchez said Charlotte already has limited shelters, and the documentation process to get in the few remaining spaces can be challenging for immigrant families.
“We do need the city or the county to create additional shelters to receive those families,” she said. “Not just immigrant families, but many families that we have in the city that’s going through this every single day.”
Magbis Nuñez, with the Venezuelan alliance, said her organization originally only helped Venezuelan families find jobs, but now there is an emergency that calls for more. The alliance has worked alongside the coalition to find shelter and clothing for these families, she said.
“We need charity from many people,” she said. “We have to work together, we can’t work alone on this.”
Nonprofit organizations seek support
Hernández-Paris said the recent influx comes as the city is already dealing with a lack of housing. In the past, the charity of local residents alongside shelters assisted in finding temporary housing for immigrant families
But the influx has made this approach untenable.
“What’s happening now is the numbers are increasing at a rate that makes it very difficult to handle (one) individual at a time,” he said, adding it will take a collaborative effort to assist the families.
Officials in Mecklenburg County said they are unaware of any requests for assistance, responding to the Charlotte Observer via email.
“That includes Homeless Services’ Coordinated Entry, the County’s lead agency in connecting homeless individuals to services and resources, which has received no requests of this nature,” the email stated.
The city is aware of the increased number of immigrants coming in and they are working with area organizations to support them, an official responded in an email.
Hernandez-Paris said the organization will continue to reach out to others for help, adding the nonprofit plans to collect clothing and food during the Latin American Festival on Sept. 15.
“We’re hoping that elected officials, as we continue to reach out, will be willing to have that conversation with different members of our communities to see if we can arrive at some plan to help families,” he said.
A gofundme has also been started by the Latin American Coalition to help the families.