Siler City Immigrant Advisory Committee to start planning for Faith ID program

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SILER CITY — The town’s Immigrant Community Advisory Committee resolved to kickstart planning for a possible Siler City FaithAction ID program during its monthly meeting last Tuesday.

Such a step, as chairperson Hannia Benitez and vice chairperson Norma Hernandez told committee members, would help the group prepare for a report that members plan to present to the Siler City Board of Commissioners in November.

This report will offer recommendations for how the town should implement its 2019 Building Integrated Communities (BIC) action plan, which provides specific suggestions about what Siler City can do to better serve and integrate immigrants into the community.

“We are coming out of the phase of measuring and evaluating what we’ve done,” Hernandez said. “ … We’ve all reported back what we’ve been finding, and so what [she and Benitez] did was, we sat down, and we looked at all the information and we’re trying to plan on what makes sense moving forward as far as determining what goals we can accomplish short term and how to implement a plan for long term.”

As part of that planning, she said she considered it important to focus on “actionable” items — three of which she and Benitez outlined to the committee: appoint Hernandez and Benitez as the committee’s liaisons with the town, have members participate in Hispanic Heritage Fiesta planning efforts, and begin drafting a potential Siler City FaithAction ID program.

“I think at this point halfway through the year, we just need to say this was a big, big undertaking,” Hernandez said. “This is what we have so far. This is what we can do, and you know, for next year, and for the next group, this makes sense right now.”

The FaithAction ID program provides verifiable identification to those who may not have access to government-issued IDs. It’s one of 44 suggested policy items in the BIC action plan, which advises the town to explore adopting in partnership with the Siler City Police Department, the Hispanic Liaison and St. Julia Catholic Church.

“Many immigrants currently do not have an ID or state identification, and the reason for this is because many of them are undocumented, and cannot get a state ID, because they don’t have a Social Security number or a valid status in the United States,” committee member and immigration attorney Jisselle Perdomo told committee members in a previous meeting. “So the Faith ID program would provide these individuals with an identification that can be recognized by the community and the police department, in terms of being an ID that can be used to prove identity.”

Perdomo forms part of the Immigrant Advisory Committee’s Public Safety and Law Enforcement subcommittee, which in April engaged Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner in conversations exploring the program’s viability and implementation in Siler City.

After wrapping up the BIC process, the town had begun to look into the Faith ID program in partnership with the Hispanic Liaison and St. Julia Catholic Church. In January, the Liaison’s executive director, Ilana Dubester, told committee members that a Faith ID sign-up event had been scheduled for April 2020 before COVID-19 forced them to cancel it.

The program framework “is ready to go,” she had said, once the community can gather together again in large groups. In March, however, Siler City Town Clerk Jenifer Johnson told members that the committee would need to “start the conversation all over again” since all previous planning had been done under a previous town manager and police chief.

Benitez suggested that two to three members of the Immigrant Advisory Committee step forward to lead that conversation — something for which Public Safety and Law Enforcement subcommittee members Shirley Villatoro and Danubio Vazquez Rodriguez volunteered. Perdomo didn’t attend the meeting.

“That’s [starting that conversation] ultimately what we want to be able to do because a lot of the things are going to be implemented not only from Town of Siler City’s side, and also the departments,” Benitez said. “ … just taking that conversation to make sure prior to November, this subcommittee makes sure that those conversations have taken place to see if it’s something that makes sense to really present to the board and really pursue with town of Siler City.”

The Immigrant Advisory Committee will meet again at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, July 12, on Zoom via bit.ly/3JfKave.

In other meeting business:

• Benitez and Hernandez also recommended that committee members participate in volunteer and planning efforts for the Hispanic Liaison’s Hispanic Heritage Fiesta scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 17, in downtown Siler City.

Last celebrated in 2018, the Fiesta is a large outdoor festival thrown each year to celebrate Hispanic cultures and kick off Hispanic Heritage Month, which begins on Sept. 15. Though the Liaison takes charge of the event’s overall organization, staff engage interested community members in a volunteer Fiesta organizing committee, which acts as the driving force behind most, if not all, Fiesta activities.

“We were recommending having members of the Immigrant Advisory Committee to help volunteer their time in planning for Fiesta as well, in regards to that,” Benitez told committee members. “But then also, it’s a really great opportunity for … (the) Town of Siler City departments to really be out there — a really, really great outreach opportunity. Since it’s a centralized location, a lot of our community members come out here, and so it’s just a really great way to, you know, be in direct contact.”

To that end, she asked that two to three committee members participate in the Fiesta planning committee, a task for which members Shirley Villatoro and Danubio Vazquez Rodriguez volunteered.

“I know that historically, EVH, if they know XYZ folks are here, they do make it very intentional for community members to know, ‘Hey, here’s Norma, Carlos, Danubio, Shirley from the Immigrant Advisory Committee that are here,’” Benitez said. “So that would be another ask for committee members — to save the date for Sept. 17 so that y’all can be there.”

• Siler City Police Chief Mike Wagner shared several equity-focused updates with the committee last Tuesday, including a new recruiting program and diverse new hires.

“In order to remain competitive in the law enforcement community, we have initiated a program [where] we would hire new recruits to attend the Basic Law Enforcement Training Academy,” Wagner told committee members. “From that change, we currently have several new applicants that have applied with us, and I guess the number that we’re interested in is that of those applicants, two are female Hispanic applicants and two male Hispanic applicants.”

Wagner also added that the department’s three newest hires are all Hispanic men, two of whom have been undergoing field training.

“They’re progressing as we expect them to do,” he said. “So, we’ll be excited to turn them loose and add to our fully staffed department in the near future, but we’re very happy with them, and I can tell you that during the interview process, both of those young man really just represented the core values and the mission of the police department, and they’re really good fit for our community, so I’m very pleased.”

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

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