RALEIGH, N.C. — A legislative committee set up to examine what North Carolina can do to crack down on illegal immigration on Thursday recommended more study of what lawmakers acknowledge is a complex problem.
The House Select Committee on the State's Role in Immigration Policy expressed dismay at federal inaction to curb illegal immigration but called only for more study of the issue at the state level – not any new legislation.
The panel also recommended that the General Assembly pass resolutions when it reconvenes next month urging the federal government to beef up border security and to give states more authority to deal with their individual immigration problems.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates North Carolina ranks ninth in population among the states with what it calls 325,000 unauthorized immigrants, defined as foreign-born citizens of other countries who aren't legal immigrants.
The House committee has met several times over the past year, hearing from farmers, educators, social service groups and illegal immigrants themselves about the impact of illegal immigration on the state.
"North Carolina has derived strength and prosperity from legal immigration, and ... legal immigrants continue to make vital contributions to the state," the committee said in its final report, which was forwarded to the full General Assembly.
"There is strong need for state-level legislation that acknowledges the impact of immigration upon the agriculture, construction, hospitality, information technology and science-based industries in North Carolina," the report states. "Any such legislation must be able to be administered effectively, have reasonable financial costs, be enforceable and be tailored specifically to meet the state's economic and employment needs."
Anti-immigration activists were hoping the panel would endorse strict new state laws, like those in Arizona and Alabama. But many of those laws have been tied up in court.
"I think that the decisions and the rhetoric we've heard nationally this past summer and fall have not been helpful, and I think we've learned a lot about the state's role," said Rep. Frank Iler, R-Brunswick. "This is the conclusion we've reached, being very broad and general."
Iler said individual lawmakers are free to file their own immigration bills next year, but House Speaker Thom Tillis said the legislature should take a cautious approach.