Immigrant Advisory Committee identifies priorities to strive toward this year

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SILER CITY — The Siler City Immigrant Community Advisory Committee shared subcommittee updates and identified several Building Integrated Communities strategies to explore this year during its monthly meeting last Tuesday.

After appointing members to five subcommittees in February, the group resolved to meet within their subcommittees before the committee’s March meeting, identify priorities and then report back to the committee at large. Most subcommittees met that goal last Tuesday.

“I think from what I’m hearing, a lot of fruitful conversations are starting to take place, which is what we are wanting to happen,” Chairperson Hannia Benitez told the committee.

Subcommittees include Communications and Leadership, Business & Entrepreneurship, Parks & Recreation and Youth Mental Health, Public Safety and Law Enforcement, and Housing and Public Transportation. Each holds up to three committee members, plus a town employee specializing in that topic.

All subcommittee topics derive from the town’s 44-item Building Integrated Communities action plan, which community leaders finalized in early 2019 to address immigrant residents’ needs based on information gathered during a two- to three-year community planning project.

The plan’s eight key strategic objectives include communication, housing, leadership, youth mental health, business and entrepreneurship, public safety and law enforcement, parks & recreation, and public transportation. Residents may view it in full at unc.live/3Donqpl.

The Communication & Leadership subcommittee met right before Tuesday’s meeting and established the creation of a bilingual Siler City Public Information Officer position as its top priority, according to members Benitez, Danubio Vazquez Rodriguez and Carlos Simpson.

“We came to the conclusion that the town is already doing a lot of the key points that’s in the plan,” Vazquez Rodriguez said. “Our main goal is coming up with this PIO position. We realized that this person is probably very important to communications because we were looking and discussing every point, and we realized that just that position hits every point that we have in the BIC plan.”

To work toward that goal, subcommittee members resolved to study similar positions in neighboring North Carolina municipalities and use their observations to create a job description encompassing everything a potential bilingual PIO would do. 

“The ultimate goal of what we’re looking to do is … share it with town management in consideration for next steps possible within the either short- or long-term future,” Benitez said. “We are in the general consensus that a position such as the public information officer would be very beneficial in house for the town of Siler City and staff, and then also beneficial for the community at large.”

Presenting next, Business & Entrepreneurship subcommittee members Jisselle Perdomo and Norma Hernandez reported that they’re scheduled to meet with Jack Meadows, Siler City’s planning and community development director, to discuss the BIC plan. They also hope to partner with the Chatham Economic Development Corporation, which Hernandez said has already been working toward achieving similar goals.

“Last year, I sat [in] on the Economic Development [Board], and a lot of their goals are our goals,” Hernandez said, “and although they’re focusing on minority-led businesses and entrepreneurship, a lot of what they’re doing is things that we can just kind of join in on or join forces with.” 

Similarly, Parks & Recreation and Youth Mental Health subcommittee members Hernandez, Victoria Navarro and Shirley Villatoro scheduled a meeting next month with Jack Clelland, Siler City’s Parks & Recreation director, to identify which Parks & Rec-related BIC priorities the town can achieve within the next year. 

For youth mental health, subcommittee members identified two goals to strive toward this year: hosting a family-friendly mental health community event and expanding existing Communities In Schools programming to other Siler City schools.

“What we were looking at that it’s achievable within the next few months — with COVID precautions, of course — is to host the family-friendly community event and start reaching out to the partners to see what we can do because … within the last recent months, there’s been a couple of suicides in town within the Latinx youth community,” Villatoro said, adding, “We’re also starting to talk about counselors and expanding the Communities in Schools programming in Jordan-Matthews and other different schools to build that bridge program.”

Lastly, Public Safety & Law Enforcement subcommittee members also outlined their two objectives for this year: working with the Siler City Police Department to plan events connecting law enforcement and the immigrant community, as well as improving communication about police procedures, police encounters and individual rights. 

“We determined that the overall focus is to promote and increase ongoing positive interactions between law enforcement and the immigrant community, and also to build trust between law enforcement and the immigrant community,” member and immigration attorney Jisselle Perdomo told the committee. 

In particular, Perdomo said, she and fellow subcommittee members Vazquez Rodriguez and Villatoro would like to explore adopting the FaithAction ID program in partnership with Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner, the Hispanic Liaison and St. Julia Catholic Church. 

“Many immigrants currently do not have an ID or state identification, and the reason for this is because many of them are undocumented, and cannot get a state ID, because they don’t have a social security number or a valid status in the United States,” Perdomo said. “So the Faith ID program would provide these individuals with an identification that can be recognized by the community and the police department, in terms of being an ID that can be used to prove identity.”

The program could also benefit the Siler City community at large, according to Benitez, since many residents may not have the requisite documents for obtaining government-issued ID.

“It’s just, like, a whole process for them to finally obtain their birth certificate, their social security card,” she said. “It also benefits people that may have recently been incarcerated.”

Previously, Ilana Dubester, the Liaison’s executive director, told the committee that they’d scheduled a Faith ID sign-up event for April 2020, before COVID-19 forced them to cancel it. The program framework, however, “is ready to go,” she’d told members in January, as soon as the community can gather together again in large groups. 

But, as Town Clerk Jenifer Johnson told the committee Tuesday, the primary staff members who oversaw the initial program setup have long left the town.

“That was under a previous town manager and previous police chief, so I think if you definitely wanted to have that conversation, and I’m sure that Chief Wagner is aware of that program, and how it works and that kind of thing,” she said. “So I think it’s just something that you would probably have to start the conversation all over again.” 

The Housing and Public Transportation subcommittee had not yet met by Tuesday, but members Benitez and Navarro had plans to convene with Planning and Community Development Director Jack Meadows the following Thursday.

The Immigrant Advisory Committee will meet again at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 12, on Zoom at bit.ly/3JfKave.

“I think we’re [heading] in the right direction meeting with town staff and discussing BIC,” Villatoro told the committee near the end of the meeting. “I think our next meeting, ideally, we should have a better understanding of what it is that we can achieve in a short period of time that we have — at least within the next six months — what we can actually start working on now.” 

Other committee business

• Near the end of the meeting, various committee members thanked outgoing Town Manager Roy Lynch for guiding them through their responsibilities as a newly minted town advisory committee. Tuesday’s Immigrant Advisory Committee meeting was his last as Siler City’s town manager.

“We really appreciate and value your time and just teaching us more about what a committee is, and you know, all these past few meetings, we learned a lot,” Vazquez Rodriguez told Lynch. “I really do appreciate it, and we wish you good luck — best of luck. Know that even though you might not be in the meeting, or in our group, you’re still very much a big part of what we will accomplish, or what we’re trying to accomplish, so thank you so much.”

Lynch will join Chatham County as its new finance director next month.

“I’ve enjoyed being a part of the initiation of this advisory committee, a part of the BIC plan,” he said. “It was in progress when I came here in 2017 as the finance director. It was already underway, and great initiatives were already in place, and so, I’m just thankful to have been a part of moving forward and still want to be a part of the community as a whole.” 

Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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