Latino Forum sponsored by Elon University's School of Communications
at the Paramount Theater in Burlington April 29 drew state and local
leaders together to discuss important issues of the Hispanic people
living in the communities near the university. A culturally diverse
audience of 60 local citizens attended, and simultaneous translation
services were provided with wireless headsets for audience members
needing interpretation of the proceedings.
A group of
12 Elon students, under the direction of Dr. David Loomis, worked
to bring the civic journalism event together during the course of
the spring semester. They spent time in the Latino community talking
people about their problems, needs and issues. They worked with
the local daily newspaper, the Times-News, to put together this
forum at which those issues could be brought before area leaders
At the forum,
Elon students Keren Rivas and Jennifer Oglesby presented information
gathered through interviews with Latinos in the Burlington area.
publisher of The Times-News and La Voz, led the forum panel, which
included Dr. Heriberto "Nolo" Martinez, adviser to Gov. Mike Easley's
office on Hispanic/Latino affairs; James H. Johnson, director of
ubran investments at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC; Helen
Styles, director of at-risk services for the Alamance-Burlington
School System; Tina Siragusa, coordinator of Hispanic/Latino outreach
programs at El Centro: La Communidad in Burlington; and Ebher Rossi
Jr., an immigration attorney from Burlington; and Federico van Gelderen,
publisher, Que Pasa Latino Communications.
professor specializing in urban investment strategies at UNC, presented
a demographic update on immigration and the Latino population of
Alamance County and North Carolina. Also on hand was Richard Corpening
from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in Charlotte.
rules and school support services were two of the primary areas
of concern covered during the panel session.
the influx of Hispanics and Latinos will continue, adding that it
is an issue that should be looked at from all angles. He said illegal
immigrants now making a positive contribution in the United States
should be allowed to become legal residents. He saluted Hispanic
immigrants for their sometimes "invisible contributions" to the
workforce. "Right now, our system is broken," he said.
illegal immigration keeps happening, but we keep perpetuating the
issue because we know we have a new slave," said Siragusa,
an advocate for Latinos in Alamance County. She said the government
should do something about the way U.S. businesses lure illegal immigrants
with job opportunities
an immigration official, said his department has had a significantly
increased workload since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. People
are presenting false documentation. "Folks learn to use and abuse
the system," Corpening said. "Document fraud, identity fraud and
marriage fraud cause applications to be scrutinized more closely."
He said the government must find ways to serve the Latino community
members told their personal stories, voicing the frustrations Latinos
with U.S. structures, especially those who are illegal immigrants
living in a community such as Burlington, N.C.
major issue covered at the forum was the impact the area’s increasing
Latino population is having in area schools.
of the Alamance-Burlington School System said the increase in Spanish-speaking
students has placed a strain on resources, but not on willingness
to teach the children. "By law we cannot not serve the children,"
Styles said. "We do it with open arms."
working in area schools are pledged to do their best for everyone
she said, adding that no child will go without an education regardless
of his or her resident status.
were reached; no solutions found at the Latino Forum. But important
issues were aired. Panel members urged that there should be more
the meeting addressed citizens' perspectives and helped create a
forum was a good start on getting diverse and thoughtful approaches
to a set of local, state and national Latino immigration issues
that are often cast in black-and-white terms," Loomis said.
"My plan is to keep this network of social capital - local,
state and federal; public, private and non-profit; secular and faith-based
- active, and to apply it where it is needed in the community."
article includes contributions from student reporter Mary-Hayden