Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, immigration, News

Immigrant stories: ‘People can see who you are, not just who the news says you are’

Carolina Fonseca

Carolina Fonseca has always been a dreamer.

It’s not a term she came up with on her own, but it’s one that has been very relevant to her life. Fonseca’s parents brought her over from Mexico when she was a young girl and she lived many years as an undocumented immigrant and then as a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient before getting permanent residency.

“I will never forget the strength that they had to come here,” she said of her parents. “If times get tough for me or I feel like I can’t do something, I think about that strength that they had.”

Fonseca was one of four people at a storytelling event Thursday hosted by the NC Justice Center’s Immigrant and Refugee Rights Program. The event was titled “This Journey: Stories of Immigrants, Refugees & Advocates.” The NC Justice Center is the parent organization of NC Policy Watch.

She talked about the guilt she still feels over getting residency status in the U.S. over others and said it’s important for her to keep telling her story to help others.

“People can see who you are and not just who the news says you are,” she said of speaking out.

Her struggle helped push her to the path she’s on (she’s writing a children’s book) and she is proud of her history.

“We always have to remember where we came from because our culture is beautiful — don’t ever let anyone take that way from you,” she said.

Terry Grunwald

Eighty-year-old Terry Grunwald spoke after Fonseca with a different perspective about immigration. Her father escaped Nazi Germany during World War II and sought refuge in the U.S.

He was forced by a judge to go back, but by political chance ended up being able to stay.

Grunwald said she has been telling her father’s story for 80 years and there are still very real echoes of the past in other immigrants’ stories.

“These are people trying to live decent lives, and they deserve to live it in safety,” she said. “Hopefully 80 years from now, we won’t have these stories.”

Angela Salamanca, who owns Raleigh businesses Centro Mexican Restaurant and Gallo Pelon, spoke about her experience building a life in the Triangle as an undocumented immigrant from Colombia.

Angela Salamanca

She landed in North Carolina after being denied admission to a university in Bogotá, Colombia, and the plan was never to stay. But Salamanca quickly learned that she loved life in America.

“I was able to be whatever I wanted to be,” she said.

Salamanca said 1995 was a different time for immigrants and she was able to get a social security card and driver’s license — basic documents, she said, that were able to open a lot of door for her.

She eventually got residency status in the U.S. and is now working to get her mother here after being away from her for so long.

“I’m proud to be an immigrant in this country, and I’m proud that I landed in Raleigh,” she said.

Lela Ali was the last speaker. She identifies as an Afro Arab Immigrant Muslim but said she struggled a lot with her identity and with being an immigrant growing up.

As a child, she said, she didn’t quite grasp what undocumented really meant.

“It meant relunctantly and painfully not being able to admit who I was,” she said.

Ali couldn’t get a driver’s license when she was 16; she had to pay more to attend college, couldn’t apply for financial aid and didn’t qualify for many scholarships.

Lela Ali

“At that moment, the American dream was shattered for me,” she said.

But she pushed on and eventually got a scholarship, “the golden ticket,” it was described to her. It was her only and single way into college but it also left her with a sense of guilt and the reality of privilege that other immigrants didn’t have.

“So many other young immigrants just like me couldn’t get the golden ticket,” Ali said.

She’s gone on to build a life for herself and become comfortable with her identity. She was empowered, she said, by knowing her history and culture, and she encouraged others to as well.

Ali said her mother once read her an Arab proverb that stuck with her.

“Those that are without knowledge of their histories are like trees without roots,” she quoted.

immigration, News

Must-see documentary highlights NC’s successful Hispanic immigrants

Hispanics have been at the center of the controversial national debate over immigration. What seems to get lost in the controversy is the pivotal role Hispanic immigrants play in North Carolina’s economy.

They make up nearly 30-percent of the workforce in farming, fishing and forestry and about 20-percent of the construction workforce. Their buying power contributes more than $10 billion a year to the state’s economy.

This evening WRAL-TV will air its latest documentary “Land of Opportunity” at 7:00pm.

This half hour doc profiles three successful Hispanic immigrants and examines their contribution to North Carolina’s economy and our communities.

Click below to hear Policy Watch’s recent interview with WRAL’s documentary producer Clay Johnson:


immigration, NC Budget and Tax Center

Three scary policy ideas that we are fighting this Halloween

This Halloween there are a lot of scary policy ideas out there that keep coming back from the dead.

Some policymakers at both the state and federal level have been so relentless in their pursuit of policies that will hurt people and communities across our state that they want to change the very rules that govern us.

We plan to match that zombie-like commitment to failed ideas with timely analysis, relentless mobilization, and alternatives that will work for our state. Because cutting off opportunity from people and erecting more barriers will take us further away from building a state where every community has the tools to deliver a high quality of life and every North Carolinian can connect to opportunity.

North Carolina needs policies that won’t set us on a path to a terrifying future. That is why this Halloween we are continuing to fight back with sound, timely analysis, and the mobilization of voters across North Carolina to show the terrifying future our policymakers seek to create is not the right way forward for our state.

Here are just three scary policy ideas that we are fighting this Halloween: Read more


Immigrant students in N.C. lobby for tuition equity

Students who attended the Undocugraduation event gathered together at the entrance of the NC General Assembly after speaking with legislators. (Photo by Sarah Montgomery)

Dozens of students from across the state visited the Capitol building on Wednesday for the fifth year in a row to rally together and speak with state legislators about tuition equity. The “Undocugraduation” event was organized by the Adelante Education Coalition, a statewide network of organizations focused on expanding educational opportunities for Latinx/Hispanic and immigrant youth.  Some students who attended the event wore their graduation regalia to meetings with legislators, and spoke with them about their hopes and dreams in higher education.  Advocates also asked legislators to support HB 734 and SB 652, two bills that would open the door to higher education by allowing undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition.  Approximately 66,000 undocumented immigrant students in North Carolina would benefit from a tuition equity law.

Since 2001, eighteen states have passed legislation to grant in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrant students.  Four other states have granted in-state tuition through individual university systems. North Carolina, however, is not among those states. In NC, undocumented immigrant students are still considered out-of-state residents despite the fact that many have called this state their home for most of their lives. This means that many are locked out of higher education due to the high cost of out-of-state tuition for colleges and universities. Read more

immigration, NC Budget and Tax Center

Undocumented immigrants pay their fair share of taxes, too

Tax Day is just around the corner, and this year is no different than any other for countless undocumented immigrants filling tax forms in North Carolina. Current rhetoric on immigration often overlooks the important contributions undocumented immigrants make to our communities as neighbors, workers, and taxpayers. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy recently released a study that highlights the significant contributions that undocumented immigrants make to our state and local economies by paying taxes. According to the report, undocumented immigrants across the United States collectively pay $11.74 billion in state and local taxes.

In North Carolina, these community members pay sales and excise taxes on things such as utilities, clothing and gasoline. They also pay property taxes, either directly on their homes or indirectly as renters. Furthermore, undocumented immigrants also pay state income taxes that help grow state investments in schools, transportation, health care, and other services. At least 50 percent of undocumented immigrant households currently file tax returns using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs), which are the numbers assigned to foreign nationals who do not have a Social Security number. Among those who do not file tax returns, many still have taxes deducted form their paychecks.

Policymakers can also analyze tax contributions through the “effective tax rate,” which measures the share of total income paid in taxes. Across the country, the average effective tax rate for undocumented immigrants is 8 percent. This number is especially striking when you compare it to the average nationwide effective tax rate among the richest taxpayers: 5.4 percent.

Policymakers can still make wise choices that strengthen our communities and recognize the substantial contributions that immigrants make to our economy and to government revenues. A policy of mass deportation of undocumented immigrants would result in the harmful separation of families, and the loss of neighbors, students and friends. It would also result in a tremendous loss for state and local economies struggling to sustain a post-recession recovery. When it comes to immigration, state and national leaders have an opportunity to explore and enact sound public policies that promote economic growth and immigrant integration, based on facts and reality rather than playing out the politics of fear and division.