As thousands of migrant children cross the U.S. border seeking refuge from violence in Central America, the town of Carrboro wants them to know they’re welcome.
The Carrboro Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a resolution Nov. 18 proclaiming the town a welcoming environment for these unaccompanied minors and the families sponsoring them.
“It’s, in part, a reaction to other communities’ local governments in North Carolina adopting resolutions that say essentially the opposite of what Carrboro has now said — that these children are unwelcome in their communities,” said Alderman Damon Seils. “For a lot of reasons, we found that to be problematic.”
The number of children entering the U.S. as refugees from Central American nations has swelled in the past three years, according to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, further compounding the political controversy surrounding immigration policy. According to the resolution, 90,000 minors could be apprehended.
The resolution is the result of an effort by the Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice and the North Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union to create a supportive environment for migrant children in the state, Seils said.
But the resolution — the first of its kind in North Carolina — comes in response to a lack of support elsewhere in the state, Seils said. Migrant children have faced an uphill battle in some North Carolina communities, where they struggle to access social services and public education, despite federal law that allows children in the U.S. unfettered access to public schools regardless of immigration status.
George Eppsteiner, a staff attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said the resolution was meant to shape the state’s conversation about immigration issues.
“Over the past few months, there have been a series of resolutions that are very unwelcoming and negative toward these children passed by other local governments, but I believe that this is the first resolution that has a more welcoming tone,” Eppsteiner said.
He said state officials at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction have handed down two letters advising local school districts on immigrant students, but that the letters were marked by discrepancies. The first letter spelled out specific requirements for school districts regarding immigrant students; the second letter was more general.
“The first letter was compliant with federal laws and federal regulations, so there was nothing wrong with the letter, and then a second letter was issued that basically took that away,” he said.
Undocumented immigrant children’s access to public education has also been at the heart of complaints filed with the Civil Rights Division of the Attorney General’s Office, Eppsteiner said.
Jeffrey Nash, spokesman for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, said the school district will continue to admit students who reside in the district regardless of their immigration status.
“We certainly continue welcoming students as we normally have,” Nash said. “We don’t ask questions about immigration status when they register. We’re not allowed to, and we wouldn’t want to.”