How El Centro is Combatting the Culture of Fear for Immigrants in North Carolina

By Michelle Threadgould

“The [Latino] community is in great fear,” says Carolina McCready, the Co-Director of the Latino nonprofit El Centro of Henderson County, in North Carolina. “We have people coming into the center on a daily basis breaking down, saying, ‘If I’m taken, I don’t have anyone to leave my kids with.’ We have ESL teachers that come in that can’t even speak, they’re so distraught about what they’re seeing on the ground in their classrooms and how this is affecting the kids.”

McCready is referring to the current culture of fear within the Latino community, which is a direct reaction to the strong anti-immigrant sentiment and rhetoric in both North Carolina and the U.S. Since 2008, North Carolina has been at the epicenter of controversial, anti-immigrant legislation.

An example of recently passed legislation includes House Bill 100. This legislation specifically targets undocumented immigrants who cannot obtain a driver’s license, and penalizes any city that does not cooperate with this law by preventing state funding for roads and schools in cities that accept local or college IDs as proof of identification. Without proof of identification, Latino families cannot enroll their kids in schools or receive medical treatment. But it doesn’t stop there.

“Currently there are five anti-immigrant bills in the [state] legislature—it’s a very challenging time.” States McCready, “We’ve been hearing from some of the food pantries that regulars who used to come by to pick up a box of food don’t even want to pick up the food anymore. No one wants to give their information to anyone, it’s just a lot of fear. And that all gets ratcheted up when you hear accounts of ICE vans in the Walmart parking lots, and those rumors will spread.”

In the face of so much fear and anxiety, McCready’s organization, El Centro, is doing its part to build community, trust, and help Latinos in North Carolina. For example, El Centro collaborates with migrant education programs to help provide Spanish-language adult literacy to vulnerable populations. It’s the only program of its kind within a five hour radius to help Latino and Spanish-speaking immigrants obtain their GED. The center also offers free legal clinics with immigration attorneys, provides financial literacy workshops, and offers trainings on how to create emergency preparedness plans, should a loved one or family member be deported.

“I think continuing to hold the spaces for community members to come together and to talk about what’s going on is critical to raising community consciousness and empowerment,” says McCready. She explains that the center not only serves as an educational resource for the Latino population, but as a hub for community-based activities and celebrations. El Centro has also been fundamental in changing the perceptions of immigrants locally, and helping North Carolina residents recognize the contributions of Henderson’s vibrant Latino community.

According to the North Carolina publication Blue Ridge Now, “The presence of El Centro and its programs (more than 38,000 individuals and families participated in the past decade in LAC programming and organizing) has contributed to the steady increase of Latinos taking active roles in decision-making processes among local organizations and grassroots groups developing leaders.”

During such difficult times, El Centro provides Latino families and immigrants with a safe space and with the resources to combat anti-immigration legislation and policies, while helping empower Latinos to become leaders in their community.

If you are concerned about immigrant rights and how new legislation is targeting the Latino community, especially in North Carolina, support El Centro, and find out how your contribution can help make a difference.

Carolina Mccready from El Centro of Henderson County