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SILER CITY — The Siler City Board of Commissioners on Monday postponed appointments to the town’s first Immigrant Advisory Committee to mid-November, opening a third application period to bring in more candidates.
Under the board’s stay, the new application deadline is Nov. 1. According to town manager Roy Lynch, town staff will then compile the applications and present them to the board for discussion at its Nov. 15 meeting. As of Monday night, the town had received eight letters of interest, including five from Siler City residents.
“There’s some folks on here who’ve got some real good qualifications,” Commissioner Chip Price told the board. “I was impressed, but at the same time, there’s several people on there — I have no clue who they are, and I personally would like to have a little bit more time to ... for lack of a better term, vet some of these people, maybe even talk to them personally. It’s come to my attention that there’s also a couple people that would be interested in it, but just haven’t (applied).”
Two such residents, in fact, work inside Commissioner Lewis Fadely’s Siler City law office.
“They are Siler City residents; they do meet the qualifications,” Fadely told fellow commissioners. “One is a child of parents born in Guatemala; the other was born in El Salvador and is a DACA recipient.”
Back on June 21, commissioners unanimously approved the formation of the town’s first Immigrant Community Advisory Committee, as it was called. The idea originally emerged several years ago amid a two- to three-year community planning project called Building Integrated Communities (BIC).
Begun in 2017, this project brought the town, the Hispanic Liaison and community members together to identify immigrant residents’ needs and create a plan to address them. Forming an Immigrant Advisory Committee was one such step in the project’s finalized plan, but the COVID-19 pandemic and personnel turnover delayed its implementation until June.
The original application period closed on Aug. 9. Per Lynch, the town had planned to compile and present all applications to the board during an August or September board meeting, but after receiving only five letters of interest for the proposed seven-member committee, the town decided early last month to reopen a second application period until Oct. 8.
According to the town’s resolution, the committee will provide a bridge between the board and immigrant residents, offer strategies to foment civic participation among immigrant residents and serve as a forum to both discuss and address the immigrant community’s concerns.
Committee members will also take the lead on implementing any and all recommendations outlined in BIC’s action plan to better serve the town’s immigrant residents. Eligible committee members must come from “historically underrepresented communities” with recent immigrant ancestry — be that from Latin America or other parts of the world. As part of that, committee members must either be foreign-born or the children and/or grandchildren of immigrants.
But commissioners could decide to amend the resolution in response to the candidates they receive, Lynch told the board — be it increasing the number of committee members or stripping away the committee’s qualification for recent immigrant ancestry, as Mayor Pro-Tem Cindy Bray brought up.
“(Something) that bothers me, I guess, because I was looking at some applicants, is that if we require that they are of a certain origin … I think that’s kind of discriminatory against those who are not,” she said, adding, “To me the Immigrant Advisory Committee should consist of people not only who, maybe, have the origins but have the knowledge of the people, their customs and understand and speak the language.”
For other commissioners, including Bill Haiges and Price, however, that qualification makes a big difference.
“Having recent immigrant ancestry or (being) foreign born, I think, is incredibly important,” Haiges said, “because those that are further removed from that don’t necessarily have the expertise or the experience living in a foreign country, or living in an immigrant community.”
Born in Tecun Uman, Guatemala, Hannia Benitez moved to Siler City with her mother and sister in 1998 when she was a young child. She attended Siler City Elementary, Chatham Middle and Jordan-Matthews High School, from which she graduated in 2010.
After a brief stint in Sanford, she moved back to Siler City with her husband and three children in 2016. Benitez has served a three-year term as the president of the Hispanic Liaison’s board of directors and now manages the Liaison’s Sanford satellite offices as its Lee County deputy director, a role she’s occupied since January.
“Born in Guatemala and raised in Siler City, my goal within our immigrant community, which includes me, is to ensure that our voices are heard in an equitable and just manner,” she wrote in her application to the town. “I believe that the best anchor for change is communication. When this is present, many things can be accomplished.”
Durham resident Sara Correa is a research project manager with the Carolina Cancer Screening Initiative at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, where she works to carry out colon and lung cancer clinical trials for high-risk populations in rural North Carolina. Born in Mexico, she immigrated to North Carolina with her parents when she was 5 years old.
As a native Spanish speaker, she counseled and interpreted for Spanish-speaking patients at the Carrboro Community Health Center while studying for her master’s in Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill. She has also developed bilingual and culturally appropriate health literacy programs for immigrants and refugees in Greensboro.
“I have experienced first-hand the challenges and barriers immigrants face in this country,” she wrote in her application. “After my parents were deported when I was 14, I have lived on my own, sustained myself, and navigated the education system to ensure I stayed on track. These experiences have made me passionate to serve my community in any way that I can, and to ensure that I use my education and skills to reduce barriers for current and future immigrants.”
Honduran native and Siler City resident Norma Jisselle Perdomo works as an immigration attorney at Vasquez Law Firm in Raleigh. Prior to becoming an attorney, she taught ESL at Central Carolina Community College.
“As an immigrant and advocate for immigrants, I have a vested interest in working with underrepresented communities,” she wrote in her letter of interest. “I was part of the initial Building Integrated Communities (BIC) project which started years ago in Siler City.”
Born in Mexico, Victoria Navarro migrated to Siler City with her family in 1996 when she was 4 years old. She works with a higher education-focused marketing firm in Raleigh to reach underrepresented communities. She’s also served as a family engagement coordinator with education nonprofit LatinxEd to help Latinx students and families through the college application process.
“While I feel fortunate to have found the connections and skills that have allowed me to feel heard in the community, I know that is not the case for many,” she wrote. “I wish to be that voice to represent the opinions and concerns for family and friends that don’t hold the same privilege as I do.”
Originally from India, Joti Sekhon spent three decades as a sociology professor and director of international programs first at Greensboro College and then Winston-Salem State University, during which she researched issues relating to global migration patterns and volunteered with local community organizations that supported immigrants and refugees. Now retired, she lives in Governors Village in Chapel Hill.
Siler City resident and Costa Rican native Carlos Simpson manages a translation, interpretation and notarization business. He served on the Chatham County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee in the late 2000s and ran for several local offices, including Siler City mayor and the county school board, in the early 2010s.
“I wish to serve on this committee to assist in the advancement of the Hispanic immigrant community to achieve a healthier community!” he wrote.
Born in Mexico, Danubio Vasquez Rodriguez moved to the U.S. when she was almost 10 years old and eventually graduated from Jordan-Matthews. She now works in Chatham County Schools’ Pre-K department, helping families apply for one of the district’s Pre-K slots across seven schools.
“It would be my pleasure to be part of this group, because I grew up in the community … and because I feel that I have all the skill to represent our people,” she wrote. “I would like to become the leader that I found in those that taught me to speak up and not be afraid. I want people to feel included, heard, feel like they matter!”
Silk Hope resident Cynthia Bredenberg teaches Spanish at Jordan-Matthews. According to her application, she’s worked directly with immigrant students and their families throughout all 14 years that she’s been with Chatham County Schools.
“I understand that a stipulation of the committee is that you must be foreign born or have recent immigrant ancestry,” she wrote. “I may not have been born in another country, but I have a vested interest in our Hispanic and Immigrant community and our English speaking community. I am often reminded that I am a Yankee and was not born here, and perhaps that helps me to understand the immigrant experience here in Chatham County.”
To apply, interested applicants can submit letters of interest to the town clerk, Jenifer Johnson, at firstname.lastname@example.org by Nov. 1. Letters should include applicants’ home addresses, contact information, educational background and current jobs. Applicants should also add in their level of civic involvement, why they wish to serve on the committee and anything else they deem necessary.
All positions are unpaid. Appointed committee members will serve in three-year staggered terms. Members may serve a second term if reappointed but must rotate off the committee for at least a year before serving a third term. Once formed, the committee must meet at least once a month, if not more.
Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at email@example.com.
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