Terrible bill targeting immigrants and the poor – daily protests need our support

Almost all of us are immigrants, some of our families coming more recently than others.  Three out of four of my grandparents were not born here. I grew up on stories of family facing terrible treatment and hardship in their original and other countries and coming over on ships.  Many of the people who stayed behind were killed.  So I have a lot of sympathy and understanding for others who have come to the US for a better, safer life.

NC’s legislature passed a bill targeting immigrants and poor people and vulnerable populations.  I had read some about House Bill 318 which was made worse first by NC’s Senate and then by NC’s House and is now waiting for the Governor to sign.  Immigrant rights groups and anti-poverty groups like El Pueblo have organized daily protests across from the Governor’s mansion. 

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Crowd protesting HB318 at Govr’s Mansion – 10/22/15 Photo credit: Gailya Paliga

These protests have been going on for a few weeks already.  You should know 3 things about the protests

  1. the protesters could use more allies so please join them if you can
  2. people at the Governor’s mansion sent police officers over to intimidate the protesters 4 times on 10/21/15, and will probably send some again on Sat., 10/24/15
  3. the group could use speakers and participation from other concerned organizations. 

Governor McCrory should do the right thing and veto HB318.  If McCrory doesn’t veto it, this bill will cause pain for residents and law enforcement and municipalities around the state. The parts of the bill on ID and sanctuary cities would go into effect immediately, even while interpretation of the bill continues. No thought seems to have been given to roll out of these many changes to the many cities and towns around the state that will be forced to implement them.

Here is some background on the bill from the speech that NC NOW President Gailya Paliga read at the protest on 10/22/15.  Links to some of the sources on HB318 are included.  

HB318 is deceptively named the “Protect North Carolina Workers Act” since in reality, it directly hurts part-time workers and immigrants and other vulnerable populations.  Governor McCrory has a chance to do the right thing and veto this terrible bill.

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The bill does 3 main things – it blocks the government and law enforcement from accepting certain documentation, it interferes with local law enforcement working with their citizens (sanctuary cities), and it cuts off food stamps for very poor people even in areas with few or no job opportunities.  

  1. Forbidding the use of consulate and embassy documentation removes the ability of people to identify themselves to government officials.  This could prevent them from getting services, including from health care clinics.  It may cause more people to be jailed because their identification will no longer be accepted. No thought seems to have been given to the health of immigrants and what affects refusing health care may have on the community at large.  
  2. The bill also prevents local communities from adopting “Sanctuary Ordinances.”  Sanctuary cities and immigrants have been vilified by the Governor and conservative leadership in the Legislature.  But the truth is that across the country, cities, counties and police departments have become sanctuary cities for very practical reasons.  Vigorous enforcement of immigration law by local police became counterproductive.Victims and witnesses from the immigrant community became afraid to report crimes because they may be jailed or deported for doing this service.  Sometimes police punished witnesses and victims for reporting a crime more than the perpetrators.Eliminating sanctuary cities drives a deeper wedge between law enforcement and immigrants.  Making people afraid to report crimes makes them targets for crime.  
  3. A final provision in the bill is unrelated to immigration but typical for the NC Legislature over the past few years.  Rather than bringing in more jobs and helping people get by until they can get decent jobs, the conservative leadership in NC has a history of punishing the unemployed since 2013.  In 2013, the legislature slashed unemployment by as much as 1/3 and cut off federal participation in the 100% federally-funded emergency unemployment compensation (EUC) program.  In Sept 2015, they changed the requirements to get benefits again – requiring 5 applications a week instead of 2, even in areas with absolutely no jobs.  And now, bill HB318 would cut off food stamps for poor and vulnerable people – including veterans, homeless people, part-time workers and underemployed workers who WANT to work.
    In fact, according to NC Policy Watch, “this bill would result in 100,000 people being denied food assistance in 2016, regardless of the economic conditions in their communities.”

Looking at the background data on jobless workers and current need for assistance, according to the NC Budget and Tax Center’s Fact Sheet on HB318,

  • In NC, 83 counties have more jobless workers than job openings.
  • One of three unemployed workers has been out of work for 26 weeks or more.
  • NC Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has already applied for food stamp waivers in 77 of the state’s 100 counties.This means DHHS already recognized that we have problems in 77 of our 100 counties!

Lawyers and policy wonks and law enforcement leaders are still trying to figure out what changes HB 318 may cause between local law enforcement and residents.  We don’t want anything to prevent law enforcement from working safely and well with all residents, including those in  immigrant communities. We don’t want HB318 to prevent DHHS from doing its job getting food assistance where it is most needed.  

HB318 clearly punishes immigrants and the poor and other vulnerable populations.  We call on Governor McCrory to do the right thing and veto HB318.

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