September 17 marks Citizenship and Constitution Day, a combined event that commemorates the anniversary of the United States Constitution and recognizes all U.S. citizens. Ceremonies and celebrations will take place around the country, including naturalization ceremonies in September, that coincide with National Welcoming Week and Hispanic Heritage Month. This year, the 2016 Faith & Immigration Statewide Summit is also taking place on September 17, and for good reason.
Did you know that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, foreign-born persons made up 7.4% of North Carolina’s population from 2010 to 2014? In addition, more than one in 10 North Carolinians are Latino or Asian. Here are a few more statistics about immigrants and new citizens in North Carolina from the American Immigration Council and U.S. Census Bureau:
- The foreign-born share of North Carolina’s population rose from 1.7% in 1990, to 5.3% in 2000, to 7.4% in 2013. North Carolina was home to 749,426 immigrants in 2013, which is more than the total population of Detroit, Michigan.
- In North Carolina, 31.9% of immigrants (or 239,232 people) were naturalized U.S. citizens in 2013 – meaning they are eligible to vote.
- Of all registered voters in North Carolina, 5.6% (or 299,149) were “New Americans”- naturalized citizens or the U.S.-born children of immigrants who were raised during the current era of immigration from Latin America and Asia which began in 1965.
Clearly immigrants and their children are important, growing shares of North Carolina’s population and are critical components of our workforce, communities, and churches. However, immigrants, refugees, and other new citizens face many challenges. It is very difficult to become a citizen. Before an immigrant can be naturalized, he or she has already made the sometimes difficult decision to leave home for the U.S., a journey that for many is fraught with emotional and physical challenges. The subsequent process of becoming a lawful permanent resident, one of many eligibility requirements, can be lengthy, complex, and expensive. Immigrants also face many challenges once they arrive in North Carolina, such as dealing with discrimination, finding work and housing, accessing services, helping children to succeed, and overcoming cultural/language barriers. However, the benefits of citizenship are numerous, including voting rights, greater mobility, and family unification.
Are you interested in learning more about the naturalization process and possible upcoming changes in legislation for immigrants? Do you want to know more about the refugee resettlement process and how refugees come to North Carolina? Does your church want to start an immigration clinic as a ministry for the community? All of these topics will be addressed at the 2016 Faith & Immigration Summit on Saturday, September 17, from 9:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m. at Apex United Methodist Church (100 South Hughes Street). Although registration for lunch is closed, all are still welcome and invited to attend the conference sessions. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions. A full schedule with workshop descriptions is available here.