Our Increasing Latino Population

A Policy Statement Adopted by the House of Delegates, North Carolina Council of Churches, November 12, 2002

The Issue

According to US Census Bureau figures, about one in eight Americans is Hispanic.  The current national estimate of 35 million Latinos living in the United States represents the largest minority population in theU.S.  The growth of the Latino population is enormous, projected to increase from 9% of the total population in 1990 to 16% in 2020.

The Latino population of North Carolina is growing at an even faster rate.  From 1990 to 2000, the Latino population grew by 394% to 378,963, the largest percentage increase of any state in the country.  This growth includes five of the country’s thirty fastest growing counties in terms of Latino population (Wake, Mecklenburg, Forsyth, Guilford, and Durham). This growth has created tension in some North Carolinacommunities. The tension has been both racial (between Latinos and whites, African Americans, and Native Americans) and economic (as lower-income people have accused Latinos of taking away low-paying jobs).

This Latino population is much younger than the total population.  While only 52% of the total NC population is under the age of 35, 77% of Latinos fit that age bracket.  This reflects the overall youth of Latinos nationwide—the median age for the Latino population is 9.4 years younger than that of the overall population.  Moreover, because most of the female Latina newcomers are in their peak childbearing years, the potential for continued growth of the state’s Latino population is enormous.

The Latino population has become an integral part of the North Carolina economy.  Latinos provide labor for agriculture, construction, and manufacturing industries across the state.  For instance, 75% of construction workers in Mecklenburg County are Latino, as are over 95% of “guest workers” in NC agriculture, and over 50% of workers in meat processing plants across the state.  This new labor supply has enabled some traditional economic sectors to maintain their importance, such as tobacco, agriculture, food processing, and vegetable farming in the eastern part of the state.  Additionally, between 1992 and 1997, the number of Latino-owned businesses doubled in North Carolina.

The earning and spending of the Latino population exerts a significant impact on North Carolina’s economy.  A 1999 economic impact study by East Carolina University reported that the flow of Latino wages back into the economy directly results in as much as $391 million and generates 20,000 jobs in the eastern part of the state alone.  According to the University of Georgia, Latino buying power in NC increased from $8.3 million in 1990 to $2.3 billion in 1999.  North Carolina also benefits from the taxes that are paid by all, including immigrants.

Many Latinos share common values of education, family unity, work ethic, and religious faith.  U.S. Census data showed in 2000 that over two-thirds of Latino families are married-couple families.  Latinos express their commitment to religious faith in over 200 Spanish-speaking church congregations in North Carolina.

The poverty rate among Latino families is high. Nationally, the percentage of Latinos living below the poverty level is about double the percentage for the total population. Previous policy statements of the North Carolina Council of Churches dealing with issues of economic justice would apply to Latinos in poverty. But the needs of many in the Latino population are complicated by their status as recent immigrants (the majority of whom are not documented) and by their lack of fluency in the English language.

Why People Of Faith Should Care

Scripture is replete with verses admonishing us to welcome the stranger in an alien land. Giving hospitality to strangers, Abraham learns he has been “entertaining angels” who in turn announce that Sarah in her advanced age will give birth to a son (Genesis 18). God declares to Moses: “When an alien settles with you in your land, you shall not oppress that one, who shall be treated as a native born among you, and loved . . ., because you yourselves were aliens in Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-34). In our time, only the Native Americans among us do not come from an immigrant heritage.

According the Jesus, welcoming the stranger will determine how we are judged on the last day (Matthew 25). He abolished distinctions between Jews and outsiders (Ephesians 2:13-17) and illumined the core of hospitality: in the stranger, it is Christ himself who is welcomed (Matthew 10:40; John 1:11). In the United States today, immigrants are the preeminent outsiders, and Latinos are chief among them. They bear the image of God that Jesus invites us to welcome.

Policy Recommendations

Education

According to the federal Department of Education, Latino students were more likely than white and African-American students to leave school before completing a high school program. In North Carolina, many high school students with years in the public school system cannot see a future in higher learning because they do not qualify as a resident for college tuition purposes. Therefore we support an education program that:

1. Increases state funding for Limited English Proficiency (LEP)

2. Makes available an in-state tuition option to those Latino students who have graduated from a NC high school or have obtained a GED in NC and who meet the NC state domicile requirements regardless of immigration status.

Health

As the Latino community continues to grow, so does the need for culturally and linguistically appropriate care. Health care providers overwhelmingly report that language is the most significant barrier to providing adequate care for Latinos. Therefore we support actions that would:

1. Increase the number of trained medical interpreters and/or bilingual providers.

2. Offer access to mental health care services to Latinos throughout the state.

3. Utilize federal Medicaid reimbursement for interpreters.

Housing

Many North Carolina Latino residents are not well informed of their rights and responsibilities as tenants under state law. There is confusion because of language and/or ignorance of NC laws regarding housing. Therefore we support requiring translation of lease, rules, and important notices for limited English proficient tenants if the percentage of such tenants reaches 30% of a landlord’s units. We also encourage the state to make available to tenants a summary of North Carolina landlord-tenant law, translated into the tenant’s language.

Worker’s Issues

Agriculture is one of the most accident-prone industries in the United States. North Carolina’s farmworkers, like those nationwide, suffer a disproportionate share of deaths, injuries, and illnesses compared to workers in other professions. The North Carolina Council of Churches will continue to support worker’s compensation coverage for all NC farmworkers.

Driver’s Licenses

Restrictions on the issuance of driver’s licenses prove costly for the state and increase identity fraud. Unlicensed drivers present a public safety hazard. Law enforcement officials oppose restrictions on immigrant drivers’ licenses, while NC employers benefit from their workers having licenses. Therefore we support continued licensing of drivers without regard to immigration status.

Legal System

Because Latinos not fluent in English are at a distinct disadvantage in the legal system, we recommend that translators’ services be made available to the subject individual, and that these services be made available in each county and judicial district.


[1] There is much confusion about the use of the words “Latino” and “Hispanic.” Technically speaking, “Hispanic” refers to people who speak Spanish. It would include people not just from Central and South America, but also those from Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries. “Latino” refers to those from Latin America. This would include Brazilians (who speak Portuguese), but exclude people from Spain. The Census Bureau uses the category “Hispanic.” The trend is towards broader use of “Latino,” which is the pattern followed in this paper.

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