Cooper and Stein account for, reaffirm commitments to N.C. Latino Congress

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In 2016, candidates Roy Cooper and Josh Stein made a series of promises to 1,400 Latinos at a North Carolina Congress of Latino Organizations (NCCLO) assembly in Durham. Last Thursday, Gov. Cooper and Attorney General Stein met with the NCCLO once again to account for and to renew these promises.

“This is a historic event in North Carolina in terms of an accountability report from two of the most influential elected leaders of the state,” NCCLO executive director Ivan Parra told other members during the meeting.

Among other things, Cooper promised to issue an executive order to help protect essential workers, particularly meat-processing plant workers and farmworkers, from COVID-19, and to continue fighting against disparities in public education. Stein committed to continue supporting DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, and to support legal challenges against policies intended to harm immigrants and their families.

More than 850 delegates attended the meeting, including nearly 700 Latinx leaders representing some 150 organizations from all over North Carolina. Thirty-six Latinx community leaders from Chatham County attended the meeting, including Chatham County Schools’ Johnny Alvarado.

During the meeting, Alvarado asked Gov. Cooper to commit to ensuring all children equal access to a “sound basic education,” a right guaranteed under the North Carolina Constitution and reaffirmed by the 1997 court case Leandro v. State.

“(Leandro) requires North Carolina to identify specific resources necessary to guarantee that all children and young adults, including those who are learning English, have access to that education,” Alvarado said. “We hope that whoever becomes the next governor will be a strong leader in ensuring that promise comes true.”

In response, Cooper promised to do everything he could to fulfill the Leandro requirements.

“High quality public education is critical to me,” he said, “and I want to make sure that every child has one.”

Power accounts

In 2016, then-gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper made the NCCLO four promises:

• to meet with with NCCLO leaders within 90 days of taking office

• to reinstate the Hispano/Latino Advisory Council to the Governor

• to strengthen relations between Latinos and law enforcement, including vetoing legislation seeking to require that North Carolina’s sheriffs cooperate with ICE, and

• to work toward improving the state’s ability to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate health and human services to North Carolina’s growing Spanish-speaking community.

Per his report, Cooper said he had met or was working toward fulfilling his promises. Besides meeting with the NCCLO in 2017, he said he reinstated the Hispanic/Latino advisory council, upon whose recommendations he appointed the “first ever Hispanic district attorney in the history of North Carolina.”

He vetoed House Bill 370, the bill that sought to have sheriffs work with ICE to deport undocumented immigrants — legislation he said “came from a bad place.”

“It came from political leaders who were using our national origin to try and divide us,” he said during his report. “I believe strongly that we are a state and a country that is more successful when it is diverse.”

His final promise contained several parts, which Cooper said his administration is still “working on meeting.”

Parra said the NCCLO’s health and human services requests “amount to a total reshape of the way health and human services agencies serve (the Latinx) community throughout the state.” Among others, the NCCLO asked for the Cooper administration to provide information on health and human services in Spanish and consider collecting federal reimbursement funds designed to incentivize health care providers and insurance companies to hire bilingual staff.

Cooper’s administration has met or is working to meet most of the health and human services requests he promised to realize, Parra said during the meeting.

The only request the NCCLO is unsure about, Parra said, is whether the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services has assessed the capacity of all 100 counties to serve their Spanish-speaking communities — something he said is particularly important during COVID-19.

“A simple letter from you or the Secretary of Health assessing the capacity of the state to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate services to our community is in need if it hasn’t been provided,” he said to Cooper. “It would give you a baseline about the kind of capacity that the state has to support our community.”

Then-candidate Josh Stein committed in 2016 to defending DACA in federal court, to issuing guidelines about where ICE may go, and to defending the rights of Latino mobile home park residents.

Per his report, Stein said North Carolina under his legal authority successfully challenged federal attempts to abolish DACA. He also reported his department has routinely put out information on ICE impersonation scams targeting the Latinx community and that he’s investigating a Cary mobile home park with a large Latinx population.

“Unfortunately, COVID has slowed it down a bit,” he said, “but we are committed to ensuring that all tenants — all consumers, no matter who you are, what your race is, where you were born, what language you speak — are equally protected under the laws of North Carolina.”

Renewing promises

Cooper and Stein also reaffirmed their commitments to the Latinx community. Both promised to meet regularly with NCCLO leaders and to continue supporting the rights of Latino mobile home park residents.

Stein promised to continue fighting federal attempts to intimidate and harm the Latinx population. He also committed to keep defending DACA, the program that protects over 24,000 people in North Carolina.

“But DACA has only ever been a Band-Aid,” he added. “It’s only been a partial solution. And it only addresses a small percentage of people who live in fear of deportation, people who have lived in this country for many, many, many years.”

What the country needs, Stein said, is a comprehensive DREAM Act that grants DACA recipients a pathway to citizenship — an act he said he’s urged Congress to pass.

Likewise, Cooper promised to issue executive orders mandating social distancing, regular sanitation and other measures to protect essential workers, particularly farmworkers and meat processing plant workers who often come from the Latinx community.

Morís Aldana, the meeting’s co-chairman, called the pandemic “a matter of life and death” for North Carolina’s Latinos.

“Our people are getting sick and dying,” he said. “We have been called essential workers and made to work during this pandemic so that others can be nourished and comfortable.”

COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted North Carolina’s Latinx community. Right now, North Carolina has over 146,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and about 39% originated from the Latinx community, even though they only represent about 10% of the state population. More than half of Chatham County’s confirmed cases also come from the county’s Latinx community.

“I care about the people who are performing these jobs,” Cooper said, adding, “Since we can’t get the general assembly to do anything, we think an executive order would be the best way to provide these protections. We’re working very hard to put it together.”

The pandemic is “shining a bright light” on disparities that existed prior to it, Cooper told the NCCLO.

“So we want to continue to emphasize our communities of color and particularly the Latinx community that has been hit so hard by this virus,” he said. “I pledge to you my work.”

Reporter Victoria Johnson can be reached at victoria@chathamnr.com.

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