NC Legislators’ Immigration Race to the Bottom

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The White House’s and Congress’ continued inaction on responsible immigration reform has led to disaster and crisis, for state governments, local officials, and families alike. But the most serious side effect of this egregious abdication of responsibility is the “open season” many politicians seem to have declared against hard-working immigrant families. In North Carolina, for example, a sheriff’s racist remarks in 2008, used to describe the Latino community during a news interview, resulted not in condemnation but instead praise and adoration. The elected official’s popularity spiked and a Facebook group seeking his re-election was created. Is this really the America we thought we knew?

The immigration crisis has been compounded in the absence of federal oversight as states have taken it upon themselves to institute new immigration laws, policies, and regulations. Last year Arizona passed SB1070 into law; it has since inspired over a dozen states to introduce (and some even passed) similar legislation. The North Carolina General Assembly hasn’t yet advanced its own versions of Arizona’s SB1070, but there are reasons for concern as state lawmakers here embark on a race to the bottom to out-do similar legislative initiatives like those in Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia.

Leaders in North Carolina General Assembly have formed the new Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration Policy. Its co-chairmen, Rep. Frank Iler of Brunswick County and Rep. Harry Warren of Rowan County have made no qualms about their intentions. Iler recently told his local newspaper, “My personal opinion is that we need to make North Carolina as unwelcome for any illegal alien from wherever they come from.”

News about this committee’s genesis began to circulate within immigrant advocate circles just a few days after a federal judge’s decision to uphold provisions of the most draconian state-level immigration laws, passed in Alabama earlier this year. Are these North Carolina legislators seeking to out-south Alabama, a state now in chaos as immigrant families are being persecuted by their state government and being denied even the most basic of human needs? Yes, in Alabama undocumented immigrants are being denied service by local water utilities, who claim they’re merely seeking compliance with their state’s new immigration law. Alabama elected officials have been transparent and even celebratory in the effects of their new immigration attrition law which has resulted in the undocumented community in that state self-deporting.

Iler’s recent interview raised several red flags, including that he and the co-chairman, Rep. Warren, held a private meeting to “discuss the mission” of the newly formed committee. Where is the transparency that the new Republican majority promised at the start of the 2011 legislative session? Also concerning is that these two legislators have been some of the staunchest supporters of anti-immigrant bills proposed in this year’s legislative session. One of the bills that they co-sponsored is HB11, a bill that would have denied access to higher education for undocumented students. Warren also co-sponsored HB 744, a bill that in its original version would have done part of what the new Alabama immigration law does– require those tasked with educating the next generation to become de facto immigration agents and inquire into the legal status of public school children. The support these legislators and other committee members have given to some of the most violently anti-immigrant bills proposed in North Carolina is an indication of types of legislation they will likely pursue.

Rather than focusing on creating more challenges, these legislators should be working on creating solutions to joblessness in their counties and our state. Seeking immigration attrition legislation in hopes that it would subsequently create jobs for U.S. residents and citizens is baseless. In fact, we already know that Arizona’s unemployment rate increased every month since SB1070 was signed into law, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Passing immigration attrition legislation at the state level does not create jobs and does nothing to solve the federal issue of immigration. Instead, such legislation only harms families and children.

I’m confident sensible North Carolinians – the majority, I’m sure – understand that ill-treatment of immigrants by way of hurtful language by politicians and punitive policies and legislation is dreadfully wrong and immoral. Silence in the face of such aggression and injustice implies consent. Though we don’t yet know what this new committee will prioritize, we do know the direction they’ll pursue – one that ultimately hurts families, business, education, and every infrastructure of our state. I encourage my fellow, well-meaning Tar Heels to speak out now before it is too late. We in North Carolina take pride in our progressive, fair-minded history. Our forward-thinking reputation has lent itself to growth here in business and education, as people from all over the world continue to travel to North Carolina for work and to learn at our world-class universities. Pursuing any type of restrictionist legislation that will target those with brown skin and foreign accents will do unimaginable damage to our great state, its business, its reputation and its dear people.

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