N.C. immigration bill sparks debate

June 8, 2013 

The Wilson Daily Times, N.C.

A coalition of Latino organizations want to meet with legislators this week to talk about House Bill 786.

The bill is called the RECLAIM NC Act.

The proposals include allowing undocumented immigrants to register for driving privileges. However, it's part of broader reform measures that increase immigration enforcement in the state and allow police to check immigration status for those they stop. A person could also be detained in some cases with “reasonable suspicion” of illegal status.

Many groups, like the N.C. Justice Center, claim the bill is not actually designed for public safety.

Those who oppose the bill say it will lead to racial profiling by law enforcement, the needless separation of families and will also cost the state millions.

Rep. Harry Warren is a sponsor of the bill and said the fears surrounding HB 786 are unfounded. Warren said he has support from Latino groups like Jesus Ministries.

Warren said there were many stakeholders involved in drafting the legislation, which stands for Reasonable Enactment of Comprehensive Legislation Addressing Immigration Matters in North Carolina Act.

Juvencio Rocha Peralta, who is the executive director of AMEXCAN, a non-profit organization that assists Latinos, said when they went to lobby legislators, they were happy to hear what they had to say.

“We took them hundreds and hundreds of signatures from citizens who are opposed to the bill,” Peralta said. “We held educational forums — 18 of them — across eastern and central North Carolina and asked the people what they thought about this bill.”

Peralta said he has not met one Latino who thinks the bill is fair or wants the bill.

Warren said HB 786 is not about addressing illegal immigration or enforcing immigration laws.

“This bill is about law enforcement and public safety,” Warren said.

Under the law, an officer can ask for documentation papers.

Warren said the law he sponsored is not like the law in Arizona where the Supreme Court did allow officers to ask any person for their documentation papers.

Warren said the N.C. law won't allow an officer to ask for documentation papers without a good reason.

But Peralta said he is a naturalized citizen and there is nothing to prevent that kind of racial profiling because it is up to the officer.

“It is very obvious I am Latino,” Peralta points out. “What stops an officer from just looking at me and asking for documentation or any other citizen? Nothing. It has always been up to the discretion of the officer. And we already know racial profiling already takes place.”

Peralta said most law officers will do their job in a responsible manner, but he fears the few who won't.

Another provision of the law states Latino drivers who have the temporary driver's license be able to show proof they have insurance for a year in advance.

Peralta said he doesn't know anyone who pays their car insurance a year in advance.

Warren said he felt in crafting the bill with anticipated costs of insurance it wasn't unreasonable.

“When you compare the cost of insurance for a year and the cost for counterfeit documentation, it is close to the same cost,” Warren said. “We want to guarantee they are insured.”

But Warren said he is not opposed to looking at other ways to make sure that same population is insured.

Peralta said the new law will make it almost impossible to get the driving permits for Latinos.

Peralta said it isn't likely anyone can work without transportation.

The law also provides for immigrants to pay for their incarceration while awaiting trial.

“Nobody has told us yet what happens when a person is found not guilty,” Peralta said.

The Justice Center said many North Carolinians don't realize how much Latinos are a part of the economy.

“These arbitrary residency requirements mean that migrant farm workers and other immigrants who live here to work in tourism, seafood processing, or other seasonal industries would not qualify for the permit or ID if they can't prove they have lived in North Carolina for a year. In fact, anyone who can't prove their presence or who arrived after April 1, 2013, won't qualify,” the group contends.

A member of the Colorado General Assembly wrote to members of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Joseph A. Salazar said their general assembly passed a law in 2006 for law enforcement to report individuals they suspected of being undocumented to immigration authorities.

Salazar said at the time the bill passed more than 100,000 people were congregated outside protesting the law.

But he said the state of Colorado paid the costs of the bill.

“The Colorado Fiscal Institute estimated that our state paid upwards of $13 million per year to enforce federal immigration laws,” Salazar wrote.

He said the law also caused a lost in community trust.

Salazar said they repealed their bill (SB90) after six years.

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