ICE cooperation bill and other immigrant-targeted proposals fuel community fears
This story was produced through a collaboration between WFAE and La Noticia. You can read it in Spanish at La Noticia. Puedes leer la nota en español en La Noticia.
A series of Republican-sponsored bills in the North Carolina General Assembly have put immigrant advocacy groups on alert. The proposals could affect various aspects of immigrant life in the state, including access to identification cards and due process.
For the third time in four years, North Carolina Republicans have submitted legislation that would obligate local sheriff’s offices to report certain immigrant detainees to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. It’s a measure that immigrant communities fear could lead to increased deportations and family separations.
While previous attempts at establishing mandatory ICE cooperation have been vetoed by the governor, this time could be different, said Maria Gonzalez, deputy director of El Pueblo Inc.
“The main difference is that we cannot rely as heavily on the governor's veto,” González said. “In the Senate, Republicans now have the supermajority, and we can only lose one Democrat vote to not have his veto overturned if it were to be passed again.”
The legislation builds off a currently voluntary national program, known as 287g, where local law enforcement agencies can choose to communicate the immigration status of detained people with federal immigration authorities.
Currently, 15 of North Carolina’s 100 counties have a 287g agreement with ICE. Several other counties, including Mecklenburg, ended previous 287g agreements that proved controversial and costly. González said the effort to make the program mandatory goes against the will of North Carolina voters and the sheriffs they chose to elect.
“For the legislature to now retaliate with enforcing it in 100 counties, we just think it really undermines people's votes. It undermines the democratic process, it undermines sheriffs, it undermines our communities,” González said.
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden released a statement this week opposing both the House and Senate versions of the ICE cooperation bill, a policy he has vocally opposed in the past.
“These bills are another attempt to diminish the power of Sheriff and doesn’t allow local communities to set their own policies,” he said. “Mecklenburg County is safer when all members of our community can trust and engage with local law enforcement without fear of repercussions as it pertains to their federal immigration status.”
Antelmo Salazar, president of El Colectivo NC, says he agrees.
“Our communities,” he said, “often don’t report crimes out of fear of the police, even for issues that aren’t very serious.”
Now that lawmakers are trying to force sheriff cooperation, he continued, the community will be even less likely to come forward.
The rhetoric surrounding the legislation has left immigrant residents like Salazar feeling under attack.
“The truth is, this is very stressful and disappointing to see the people in power make such racist decisions,” Salazar said.
González said she was disturbed by the way immigrants were depicted during a House committee hearing on the ICE cooperation bill on Wednesday.
“It was such a tense environment and there were speakers that were screaming. It was very difficult to be undocumented and to be in the room,” she said. “I've never committed a crime, but it almost felt like they were targeting you because the way that they were connotating immigrants with crimes made it feel like that was their whole viewpoint towards people who are here undocumented.”
She said El Pueblo is currently working on outreach to sheriffs across the state to encourage them to oppose the legislation. The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association did not respond to our request for comment on the matter.
Stefania Arteaga with the Carolina Migrant Network said she’s worried the bill could promote racial profiling of Latino community members and undermine the judicial process for immigrants under arrest.
“Everybody who’s arrested, they're not necessarily considered guilty. There's a judicial process,” Arteaga said. “People who had the assumption that this [judicial process] would happen would instead be turned around and be sent to ICE custody, really creating a very separate injustice system for immigrant community members as well.”
Several immigrant-directed bills under consideration
Arteaga added that the ICE cooperation bill isn’t the only proposal before the General Assembly that could hurt immigrant communities in North Carolina.
One bill would impose a 4% tax on wire transfers, in addition to fees that are already paid on such funds. Wire transfers are a way that many immigrant workers help support family members back home. Another bill would require state licensing boards to also act as immigration agencies by verifying the status of applicants.
“Often at the beginning of session, we see a lot of anti-immigrant bills,” she said. “Right now our count is looking at about five, but that can definitely go up. It's fearful because there's a lot of fear mongering. We know that when immigrant communities are brought up, it's usually to win political points and to use them as scapegoats for various political issues.”
Another bill on her radar would further restrict immigrants in their ability to identify themselves in North Carolina.
Currently, the state restricts immigrant access to driver’s licenses. It also bans foreign identification cards issued by consulates or embassies for official use. That means North Carolina immigrants have sought out alternative identification through the Faith Action ID Network — something Republican lawmakers now hope to restrict.
“So HB 167, what it attempts to do is really try to limit the utilization of community IDs when someone is going before a judge, a clerk, a magistrate or a local law enforcement,” Arteaga said. “It's consistently evident that the state representatives, what they're trying to do is make sure that people who are trying to seek the proper channels to obtain identification are continuously placed in the shadows.”
Not having a proper ID affects immigrants in big and little ways, Arteaga explained. It can mean not being able to pick up a child from school, not being able to buy a bottle of wine or not being able to prove who you are during a police encounter.
Gonzalez added that the consequences of immigrant-targeted legislation are not only logistical but psychological.
“We are seeing these communities experience mental health crises at a much higher level just from the stress alone, like what that does to your cortisol levels, what that does compounded with the pandemic that we just went through, compounded with the economy,” González said.
The main sponsors of the ICE cooperation bill — Republican Representatives Destin Hall, Brenden Jones, Jason Saine and Carson Smith — did not respond to requests for comment. Republican Representatives George Cleveland and Bill Ward, who appear as sponsors on all four house bills directed at immigrants, did not respond to requests for comment either, nor did Representative Ben Moss, a sponsor of three of the bills.
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