Charlotte is one of seven cities sharing $1.5 million from the national John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to put toward immigration efforts, the organization announced Friday.
The donation will expand efforts through the New Americans Campaign in cities where the Knight Foundation operates throughout the country: Akron, Charlotte, Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, San Jose and St. Paul.
Locally, almost one in six Mecklenburg residents were born outside the U.S., and a 2019 report found that Mecklenburg’s immigrant population grew by 18.9% from 2012 to 2017.
As the population booms in Charlotte and counties surrounding Mecklenburg, 2020 Census data show the much of that growth is due to the addition of Hispanic families, some of whom are recent immigrants.
Jose Hernandez-Paris, who leads the city’s Latin American Coalition, has witnessed that growth firsthand — he’s lived here for 44 years.
“I remember a point in time when I was the first Jose that anyone would ever meet. My name was always misspelled,” he said. “Now, they have a better understanding of people from different nationalities. We don’t have to start from scratch anymore.”
Founded in 2011, the New Americans Campaign is a national network of legal service providers, immigration organizations and community leaders that assists aspiring citizens navigate the citizenship process by collaborating with local organizations.
They’ve helped more than half a million people become naturalized citizens so far. But there are still nearly 9 million permanent residents of the United States who have not yet completed the citizenship process.
They contribute so much but don’t enjoy full participation in our democracy, New Americans Campaign director Lucia Martel Dow said.
“Becoming a citizen gives people a powerful voice: power to vote and power to run for office,” she said in a press release. “The New Americans Campaign educates immigrants about the process of becoming a citizen and is the first step in helping people gain the voice and power denied to non-citizens.”
North Carolina ranks sixth as the state in which newly naturalized citizens can have the greatest electoral influence this year, according to the New American Voters Impact Model.
The New Americans Campaign partners with five immigrant-based organizations here in Charlotte: Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte, Latin American Coalition, NALEO Educational Fund, North Carolina Asian Americans Together and Southeast Asian Coalition.
Hernandez-Paris, who has led the Latin American Coalition for five years, said the organization has partnered with the New Americans Campaign for at least seven years. He said being a part of their national network of immigrant-based organizations helps the coalition work with other groups.
“For us, part of our mission is to help the immigrant community be part of our mainstream community and be able to fully participate in our society,” he said. “Part of that is being a US citizen. We have been helping for at least 20 years in Charlotte, and this is going to give us the opportunity to get even more folks to complete their citizenship process and become full naturalized citizens.”
The Knight Foundation donation will bolster the campaign’s naturalization efforts — the network is aiming to receive least 8,500 new naturalization applications each year in the seven cities where Knight operates.