Franco Ordonez and John Frank, McClatchy, March 28, 2013
North Carolina’s Latino advocates are voicing alarm following the governor’s decision to eliminate the state’s office for Latino affairs.
The closing of the Office of Hispanic/Latino affairs was sudden and caught many by surprise. The move appears to have exacerbated the already tense relationship between Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the Latino community.
Advocates says it sends a message that McCrory and Raleigh conservatives are less concerned with the needs of the Latino community. Paradoxically, it comes at a time when issues of deep concerns, like immigration, are at the political forefront.
The closing of the Office of Hispanic/Latino affairs was sudden and caught many by surprise. A spokesperson for the governor said the office was not being closed, but that its duties were being shifted to the office of community and constituent affairs.
“We are committed to serving the needs of all of North Carolina’s citizens,” Thomas Stith, the governor’s chief of staff, said in a statement. “We don’t segment our constituents by race or cultural background, any more than we separate them by age or gender. In addition, the Governor’s Advisory Council on Hispanic/Latino Affairs is a valuable resource to help us address culturally sensitive issues.”
But advocates like Jess George, executive director of Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, sees the move as a contradiction to national efforts by the Republican Party to appear more welcoming to Latinos. Those efforts include officially supporting calls to legalize the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.
“The message from Raleigh is that Latinos in North Carolina don’t matter,” she said. “To close the office of Hispanic affairs only goes to confirm what many people suspect in our state, which is that, despite movement with the Republican Party at the national level towards more bipartisan solutions around comprehensive immigration reform, North Carolina conservatives don’t seem to have gotten the same memo.”
The office was where Latino leaders went to get the governor’s feedback on policy decisions impacting the community. It was a resource for victims needing shelter and bilingual assistance during hurricanes and other natural disasters. It also held community forums and collected demographic statistics on the state’s fastest growing ethnic community, which now exceeds 800,000 residents.