UNC's Latino Migration Project looks to better integrate immigrants into communities

CLARIFICATION: The Latino Migration Project is a collaboration of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Center for Global Initiatives.

North Carolina has one of the fastest growing Latino immigrant populations, but there is still a lack of communication between the state’s municipal government and its immigrant residents.

UNC’s Latino Migration Project seeks to help with the process of integrating immigrants into their communities, and the aid will come a little easier now that the initiative has received a grant worth more than $100,000.

The project has received a grant from the North Carolina-based Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to expand its initiative, Building Integrated Communities, over a span of two years.

The purpose of the Latino Migration Project, which is a collaborative program of the Institute for the Study of the Americas and the Center for Global Initiatives at UNC, is to provide research and educational expertise on Latino immigration issues in North Carolina.

Hannah Gill, the program director, said Building Integrated Communities, an initiative under this project, aims to strengthen civic engagement, economic and educational advancement for immigrants in state municipalities.

She said the initiative works across North Carolina to bring together local governments and immigrant leaders to identify community needs over a three-year planning process, so they can create a plan to address these needs.

“Each city decides for themselves what their needs are and how they can better facilitate integration,” Gill said.

“We partner with municipalities and bring members of diverse communities to the decision-making table as plans are created.”

Since 2010, Building Integrated Communities has worked with the cities of Greenville and High Point to provide additional services to immigrants.

Gill said with the grant, project leaders plan to expand to two more cities over the next two years.

Gill said the organization works as a bridge for Latino immigrants, helping them better connect to their cities of residence. She gave the example of helping Latino residents lobby a city to provide more bilingual information on its websites.

The initiative also helps bring immigrants together in terms of their religion through the Interfaith Advisory Council, which gathers people from different religions to work together, leverage their talents and address different issues within the community.

“We’re facilitators, but it’s up to these local communities to get people together to come up with a plan and to implement what they said they would do,” Gill said.

Gill said it also plans on writing a report with the grant money on the preparedness of N.C. institutions to address immigration reform.

Sara Kelleher, the Building Integrated Communities Program assistant, said many cities in the state have expressed interest in becoming involved with the group.

“I think it’s an exciting opportunity for municipalities on a local level and for North Carolina on a statewide level,” she said.

“The goal of this is to set the groundwork and set a foundation so we can learn from each other actively pursuing learning.”

Gill also teaches a spring semester APPLES course on Latin American immigrant perspectives from both sides of the border.

Rachel Burns, a teaching assistant for the course, said many students are not aware of the initiative, which she said was unfortunate because of all the work it does on issues facing Latinos.

“Their stories are being told with help from the oral history project,” she said.

“Knowing that we’re helping tell these stories — it’s exciting to be a part of it.”

university@dailytarheel.com

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