Raleigh, N.C. — A House committee has slowed down consideration of a bill that would ban North Carolina state agencies and local governments from accepting consular cards issued by foreign governments as acceptable ID for any government purpose.
The measure is particularly aimed at the matricula consular cards issued by Mexico.
"This is not an anti-immigrant bill. It's not an unfair or unjust punishment," said Rep. John Szoka, R-Cumberland, a freshman co-sponsor of House Bill 118 who said that his grandparents were immigrants from eastern Europe.
A similar measure passed the full House last year but was never taken up by the Senate.
"The main problem with these cards is they have no validity," said Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, who has been pushing the measure for years, saying the cards do little but help people who are in the United States illegally.
Opponents, advocates square off
Wednesday's Judiciary Committee C hearing on the bill lasted for more than hour. Debate roughly broke down between Republicans who seemed inclined to back the measure and Democrats who were skeptical of it.
Cleveland made the case that the consular cards could be used to help people in the United States illegally integrate with the rest of society until called upon to conduct an act of terrorism. Among their uses, he said, were allowing individuals to open bank accounts, obtain business licenses and obtain auto insurance.
"I find it hard to believe that terrorists are going to avail themselves to state agencies or that a terrorist is going to purchase insurance on a vehicle," said Nathan Baskerville, D-Vance
Cleveland, a former Marine, shot back, "Having some experience in diplomatic security, I can guarantee you that's what a terrorist will do."
People in the United States to commit terrorist acts want to blend in with society until they act, he said.
The committee also heard from opponents and backers of the bill.
Kate Woomer-Deters, a lawyer with the North Carolina Justice Center who does legal work for immigrants, said that the committee's impression of the consular cards is wrong.
"People who are documented may and do receive matricula consular," she said.
For example, a woman who comes to the U.S. with a spouse who is on a temporary work visa will have only her passport as a form of ID. She would have no other card showing where she stayed in the U.S., Woomer-Deters said.
Arguing for his bill, Cleveland said people don't go through the same stringent vetting to obtain a Mexican consular card that applies to U.S. identification cards.
But Woomer-Deters said the Mexican government has improved its process over the last 10 years, adding security features.
Advocates for the bill pushed back, saying that Mexican officials still don't do enough to verify a person obtaining a card is who they said they are.
Jessica Rocha, who also works with immigrants for the Justice Center, said the cards are helpful to legal immigrants. Banning the cards, she said, "doesn't make sense unless you're trying to disenfranchise a bunch of aspiring Americans."
Advocates for tighter immigration rules argued that consular cards merely helped people skirt laws designed to make it hard for people here illegally to stay in the country.
"In our opinion, that's akin to aiding and abetting," said James Johnson, of NCFIRE, a nonprofit that argues for tighter immigration controls.
For much of the meeting, there were five Democrats and five Republicans in the room. Chairman Sarah Stevens, R-Surry, said early on that she planned to hold a vote, and several senior Republicans, including Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, entered the room toward the end of the meeting, giving the GOP the votes to pass the bill.
After several sidebar conversations, however, Stevens allowed Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield, D-Wilson, to make a motion to hold the bill over.
Lawmakers said afterward that there were several questions about the measure that needed to be answered before it moved to the floor. Among those questions were whether police would not be able to use the cards at all in identifying victims and suspects, its potential effect on how immigrants can use their passports, whether it was in violation of a particular treaty and whether the card itself had improved enough its used should be continued.
Stevens asked committee members to submit questions and requests for speakers to her office over the next week.