Raleigh, N.C. — Thousands of North Carolina businesses would have to start using a federal system to check their employees' immigration status under a bill that cleared the House Commerce Committee on Wednesday.
House Bill 318, dubbed the Protect North Carolina Workers Act, would lower the threshold for using the E-Verify system from 25 employees to five. Sponsor Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, said that would add about 110,500 employers statewide to the immigration-check system.
"We've allowed a huge illegal population in the state. We've taken away employment from our citizens. We've lowered the wage base because of the illegals working," Cleveland said. "Illegal aliens cost the state of North Carolina some $1.7 billion net, after all consideration of what they produce in taxes and whatnot toward government support.
"It's time to start reversing that trend," he concluded.
The bill covers independent contractors hired by cities and counties, but it exempts farm workers and domestic help, which raised questions among some committee members.
"If, in fact, the bill sponsors are so vehemently opposed to taking American jobs, I do find it a tad disingenuous that we are excluding the agricultural businesses," said Rep. Brian Brown, R-Pitt.
Cleveland and co-sponsor Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender, noted that the General Assembly passed an E-Verify law two years ago that addressed agricultural workers, allowing farmers to hire seasonal workers for up to nine months, instead of the 90-day limit in effect at that time, before the workers would have to undergo an immigration check.
Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed that bill, saying it would make it easier for businesses in many industries to circumvent federal immigration law, but lawmakers overrode the veto.
Cleveland said agriculture amounts to no more than a quarter of the undocumented workers in North Carolina, so the current bill focuses on the bulk of the problem in other industries.
"There have been so many misconceptions about the E-Verify system since its inception because folks don't want to play with it," he said. "Folks would rather hire an illegal and go on and do whatever they want to do. ... The misconceptions and the fraud out there is, I don't really want to say appalling, but it is."
Millis said the language exempting domestic workers mimics that in federal statutes, which he said likely resulted from a court ruling.
Consular cards not valid IDs
House Bill 318 also would eliminate the use of cards issued by foreign consulates as valid forms of identification to establish state residency or obtain insurance or public assistance.
Cleveland said the state started allowing consular cards as IDs about 20 years ago to help immigrants set up bank accounts and function in society, but the consulates never verified the identities of people who were issued cards.
"They were issuing them willy-nilly. There were people who were arrested that had six, seven, eight consular cards with different names on them – different identities – but the same picture," he said.
The bill still must pass the House Judiciary IV Committee before heading to the floor.