Orange County

Carrboro aldermen welcome Central American refugee children

The Board of Aldermen unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night welcoming children and young people fleeing violence in Central America.

For one Carrboro board member, the vote had a personal connection.

Alderwoman Jacquie Gist said her great grandmother was snuck onto a boat to the United States from Ireland because she had the flu and would not otherwise have been allowed to board.

“So I guess I’m descended from an illegal child immigrant,” Gist said, “as many of us probably are.”

An estimated 1,695 unaccompanied Central American children have come to North Carolina, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says. Many have been blocked from enrolling in public schools by local school boards and municipal governments citing admissions policies that require identification and immunization records, advocates say.

The aldermen’s resolution says in part: “The Board of Aldermen supports municipal and county efforts to welcome and provide services to minors seeking refuge from violence in their home countries and encourages continuing collaboration among governmental entities to support and protect these minors.”

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice and ACLU helped write the resolution.

“The Universal Declaration of Human rights says that education is a human right and the United States Supreme Court has said that a student’s right to education is not dependent on immigration status,” said George Eppsteiner, a coalition attorney. “This resolution affirms the human right of children to receive an education in Carrboro, regardless of their immigration status, which is in accordance with federal and state law.”

When unaccompanied children are taken into custody by U.S. Customs, they are transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. According to the department, there are currently 46,209 children in this status in the United States.

In the Triangle, Wake County has 197 such children; Durham, 187. Efforts to reach those school districts for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Fewer than 50 are reported in Orange County. Jeff Nash of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools said the district is prohibited by board policy and state law from tracking immigration status.

“All children with proof of address, parent/legal guardian photo ID, proof of age, immunizations and school records (if in high school) would be enrolled in our schools,” he said.

Ron Woodard, director of NC Listen, criticized Tuesday’s resolution.

“I wish Carrboro had social-justice concerns for unemployed low-skilled citizens who often compete for jobs with illegal immigrants only to see themselves still unemployed or wages reduced due to the illegals creating surplus labor,” he said.