News Column

Immigration Bill Sparks Debate

June 9, 2013

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.

"An officer has to have probable cause to ask for documentation," Warren said. "They aren't just going to stop a car and ask for documentation. The law doesn't provide for racial profiling."

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.

"We have concerns that we may be discriminated against in other ways as well," Peralta said. "For example, we may be discriminated against when showing this permit at the store or the bank, or our place of employment."

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.

"It is a struggle for most people, no matter if they are a citizen or an immigrant, to pay that bill from month to month," Peralta said. "Asking people to pay for a year of car insurance in advance will pose a financial burden for working immigrant families, and will prevent many from obtaining the driver's permit."

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.

"You have to prove you lived in North Carolina a year before," Peralta said. "So if a person wants to make sure they go by all of the laws, they can't drive here without proving they have been here for a year already."

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

Peralta also said for many, they will fear going to DMV, he said.

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 people they arrest pay taxes just like everyone else. It is not fair to pay taxes and also pay for incarceration. Nobody else is required to do that."

Peralta said the law feels like a trap.

"If we apply for the permit, the DMV will have our sensitive immigration information and we have concerns about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and federal authorities being able to look through DMV records," 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, letting them know of a similar law they passed in 2006.

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

"At the time of its introduction, local law enforcement and numerous community leaders, religious leaders and business leaders spoke out against (the bill) and warned of the high cost in both financial resources and in terms of community/law enforcement trust (that law) would have on our respective communities," the letter stated.

He said the Colorado General Assembly did not listen and passed the bill.

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.


Warren said he is willing to listen to what those who oppose the bill have to say.

Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, is a cosponsor of the legislation, which has picked up support from some business groups like the North Carolina Chamber.

The bill is currently in the House Finance Committee.

Peralta said he wants others to become educated on HB 786 and talk to legislators.

"Nothing can be done unless the whole community can see what is happening," Peralta said. "Many families will be separated when they are sent back. Their children are citizens."

For more stories covering politics, please see HispanicBusiness' Politics Channel

Source: (c)2013 The Wilson Daily Times (Wilson, N.C.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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