04/15/07 — Forum will put focus on Latino issues

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Forum will put focus on Latino issues

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on April 15, 2007 2:08 AM

The state's unprecedented surge of immigrants in recent years has prompted local officials to organize a regional symposium on Latino issues next month.

Area community leaders are being invited to participate in the discussion, which will be May 7 at the Wayne Center.

Dr. Jim Johnson from the UNC-Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler School of Business and Axel Lluch, director of the Governor's Office of Hispanic/Latino Affairs, will address how the population growth has affected the state's economy, policies and laws.

Johnson will share his research on the economic impact, while Lluch will give a presentation on current laws and legislative issues as they relate to Latinos.

The forum is being sponsored by Wayne County Latino Council, formed by the county commission.

Health Director James Roosen, one of the organizers, said the reason for the forum is to allow leaders to get accurate information on how immigration is affecting the state's economy and society.

"Our society has changed because of immigration, just in the last 10 years," he said. "We're seeing the biggest influx of immigrants since the late 1880s. It's a lot of opportunities but also a lot of threats.

"That's why we're getting these guys here. They know and can predict trends."

Despite the United States' reputation as "the great melting pot," Roosen said there are two sides to the issue of immigration. On one hand, the economy can benefit, but at the same time there is concern about illegal immigrants as well as people "that don't know our customs, don't know our language, don't know our laws."

The forum will not only provide insightful information, but will also help dispel some of the myths, said J.R. Bravo, an officer with the Sheriff's Office and also vice chairman of the Hispanic Advisory Commission.

"The Sheriff's Office is very committed to helping Latinos, letting people know that we're here to help them," he said.

Gaspar Gonzalez, chairman of the Hispanic Advisory Commission, said it will take some time for the immigration issues to be resolved, but some progress has been made.

"This is one of the most forward-moving counties," he said. "Here in the eastern part of North Carolina, we're really going forward with a different approach than in the western part. We have to look for how we can live together. They're here -- how are you going to deport 12 million people?"

Rossen said the symposium will be one way to advance the discussion about immigration.

"We're going to hear from these guys that you have got some tremendous opportunities but you have got some things that have to be looked at -- like the expense of educating these folks, providing services, etc.," he said. "We'll discuss the change in our society, not only in Wayne County but also in North Carolina and nationally, just get people better in tune with what's going on, what to expect."