House panel OKs immigration crackdown

Posted March 14

— A House committee voted 6-5 Tuesday to approve a measure that would crack down on cities and counties that don't enforce immigration laws, undocumented immigrants accused of crimes and counterfeit ID makers.

It was the House Judiciary II Committee's third hearing of House Bill 63, and although more than a dozen people signed up to comment on the measure, public comment wasn't allowed.

Chairman Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, noted that public comments had been taken at the two prior meetings and assured those in attendance that the bill would be heard in the Appropriations and Finance committees, so there would be "plenty of opportunity to voice your opinion."

"We do have other bills building up in the committee’s inventory," Blust said. "It’s just necessary to move this bill at this point."

The measure would subject counties and cities found to be in violation of immigration law enforcement to a loss of a variety of state and federal funds, including Powell Bill funds that are used for street maintenance. It also would give private citizens an avenue to sue local governments or law enforcement agencies if they believe those bodies are violating immigration law. and would require the Attorney General's Office to follow up on every tip about suspected wrongdoing.

The proposal also makes it more difficult for someone charged with a crime who can't immediately prove his or her legal status to be released on bail and would ban pre-trial release without a secured bond. It also would toughen penalties for those who make or sell fake identification documents.

Critics of the measure, including immigrants rights groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, say it will encourage racial profiling and harm relations between immigrants and law enforcement and that it could also be unconstitutional because it treats undocumented immigrants differently than other people charged with a crime.

Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, a former police chief and High Point City Council member, ran an amendment to make it easier for cities and counties to have funds reinstated after remedying violations of immigration law.

"When you start threatening to take those funds away from cities and counties, you need to be very careful," Faircloth said.

Sponsor Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan, argued against the amendment.

"We did not come up with the penalties halfheartedly," Warrren said. "If this country, if this state, is going to address this issue, it needs to start somewhere with a firm conviction, and everybody needs to be on the same page."

Easing penalties on local governments that violate the law, he warned, "would set up a scenario or situation where it would be palatable, almost, or bearable to go ahead and violate 'sanctuary' language or to go in conflict with the federal government."

Faircloth's amendment passed narrowly, 6-5. But an amendment by Rep. Joe John, D-Wake, to remove the "rebuttable presumption" section on pre-trial release failed on a 6-6 vote.

"This is a very emotional issue, and as we watch the federal government begin to address it finally after 40 years of ignoring a whole society of people living in our country in the shadows, as we see them do it, we’re also seeing emotions arise," Warren told the panel. "This is simply a deterrent to say, let’s keep everybody on the same page."

Warren said he would continue to work on the measure to address concerns, including those of the Attorney General's Office.


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