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State’s Crackdown on Immigrants Fuels Hispanic Media Growth

New America Media, News Report, Cristina Fernández Pereda Posted: Apr 08, 2009

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – North Carolina’s ethnic media charted the state’s population boom, partly fueled by immigration. Now, the ethnic media is playing a watchdog role as the state clamps down on undocumented immigrants.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the area known as the "research triangle" was the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country, with a growth rate of 4.3 in 2008. And, part of the growth is due to immigrants choosing this area to settle down: almost 35 percent of immigrants in North Carolina came to the United States after the year 2000.

North Carolina has several daily and weekly newspapers in Spanish, as well as broadcasting stations that serve the community. These outlets are charting the changes in the state’s Latino population, paying special attention to immigration issues, which have become an important issue for the Hispanic community there in light of the state’s clamp down on undocumented immigrants.

"We are talking about all sorts of problems, from special taxes when sending money back to their countries, to not being able to go to community college and now, the lack of opportunities because of the economy," said Paola Jaramillo, editor of La Conexión, Raleigh's 14-year-old newspaper.

JaramilloPaola Jaramillo, editor of La Conexión.

Undocumented immigrants in North Carolina cannot obtain a driver's license, unlike in other states in the country. Wake County alone has spent $500,000 in the last six months for 13 cops to run the controversial 287(g) program, in which local law enforcement establishes a partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement that allows them to enforce immigration laws locally.

"They are using taxpayers' money, hiring cops to fight crime that we already pay them to fight," said Tony Asion, president of El Pueblo, Inc., an organization that advocates for immigration reform.

Most Spanish-language publications in the area have a specific section dedicated to immigration coverage. Radio stations such as La Tremenda La Raza in Charlotte broadcast daily talk shows that cover the latest developments on the immigration debate.

“We always tell our audience that we are not going to solve their problems, but we will put them in touch with the right people to talk to if they have a question,” said Gustavo Aguilar of Norsan Media.

Participants of the radio talk show at the Norsan-owned station range from police officers to health specialists to immigrants’ rights experts who can provide the audience with up-to-date and useful information on immigrant rights and responsibilities.

In 2008, more than 1,600 undocumented immigrants were arrested in Raleigh. In Charlotte, 6,000 arrests were made last year. The impact of the 287(g) program on the community has lead Hispanic Media in Charlotte to cover the crackdown on immigrants in the area. From recent cases of locals detained when driving without a license to raids in food processing plants in 2007, they are covering it all.

Alejandro Marnique, president of Que Pasa newspaper, which owns the three largest weekly publications in the state, said the newspaper’s print and online editions run the “Buzon del Inmigrante” –The Immigrant’s Mailbox – where readers can write in with questions.

Alejandro ManriqueAlejandro Manrique of Que Pasa Newspaper.

El Pueblo has hosted meetings with members of the Latino community to share information about the 287(g) program and inform them about their rights. During a March meeting, participants started to define a strategy to push for immigration reform.

The group prioritized the following seven steps: create links between the community, authorities and media; develop a committee with regional coordinators who can share what's happening in each area; maintain regular communication with authorities; raise funds for an ad campaign; develop this campaign to emphasize the positive assets Latinos bring to communities in North Carolina; train spokespersons to represent the communities in news media and, finally, a work plan to help tackle these seven steps.

The also want to reframe hot-button immigration issues in a way that portrays immigrants as a boost rather than a drain to the state economy.

"If undocumented immigrants were allowed to have a driver's license in North Carolina, the state would have $40 million each year from the taxes on those licenses,” Asion said. “Also, the state would make other $80 million just in taxes for the vehicle plaques, plus $128 million in car taxes. The campaign is not about us getting licenses, it's about the state getting the money."

Hispanic media members in North Carolina say immigrants are now in a "quiet state" and waiting for immigration reform. However, the fear of being deported is still their main concern, even more than the economic situation that is hitting both the population and news outlets serving them.

These Spanish-language publications are responding now to immigration issues like they responded a few years ago to the population growth in the area.
"We read in 1990 that North Carolina was the best place in the United States to start a business. It was on the Entrepreneurs Magazine in Venezuela. We located it on a map and decided to come here,” said Hilda Gurdián, publisher and CEO of La Noticia newspaper in Charlotte.

“We stayed in hotels for the first two weeks, we didn’t know anyone here,” added Alvaro Gurdián, the president of La Noticia.

A different example of this growth is Que Pasa Newspaper. Alejandro Manrique left Rumbo newspaper in Texas to take over this newspaper in North Carolina and transform it from a family publication into a major newspaper, with all content reported and produced locally and three different editions in three cities.

And, like their mainstream media counterparts, they are being hit by the economic downturn. Jaramillo of La Conexión folded the top of the newspaper with her fingers, showing the space she'll no longer be able to sell to advertisers or fill with a story.

"My newspaper is going to be one and a half inches smaller because of the financial crisis,” she said. “All the newspapers printed … are suffering the same problem.”

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