CHARLOTTE — North Carolina's biggest city is looking at ways to boost growth by attracting new immigrants to the United States, a move some complain would include welcoming people living in the country illegally.
The Charlotte City Council created a group last fall to study what other cities are doing to encourage immigrants to start businesses and get involved in civic life, though other cities have not yet proved whether those policies work.
The task force of economists, school leaders, law-enforcement officers and business representatives meets Thursday and holds its first public listening session next weekend. The end result of the yearlong study will be a series of recommendations to council members that could help immigrant families, co-chair Emily Zimmern said.
"It's about the economic and social benefits of being immigrant friendly," Zimmern said. "Addressing the broader issue of immigration reform is not what we're asked to address."
Cities that already are trying more immigrant-friendly policies include Detroit, Louisville, Ky.,, St. Louis and Nashville, Tenn. In 2012, Nashville had the fastest-growing immigrant population of any American city, with 12 percent of its population born outside the United States. Nearly half were recent immigrants who entered the country since 2000.
But the head of a North Carolina group demanding tougher enforcement of immigration laws said Charlotte officials seem as eager to entice people in the country illegally as legal immigrants.
"There is no problem embracing legal immigrants in this country, so what are they trying to fix?" said Ron Woodard of NC Listen. "What this committee is trying to do is lump legal with illegal immigrants together as if they were one and the same."
The city could help immigrants by hiring more government employees who are bilingual, said Manolo Betancur, who is from Colombia.
He and his wife, Zhenia Martinez of Mexico, run Las Delicias Bakery. Betancur operates a second business that picks up people from bars and chauffeurs them and their car home. Betancur said he works up to 80 hours a week, long hours which can be typical for immigrants.
"Americans don't realize they are getting the best of people from foreign countries, because hard-working people are the ones who come to make a better life. The lazy people don't want to leave their countries," Betancur said.