Greensboro, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday signed into law a measure that prohibits any North Carolina county or municipality from restricting local law enforcement's ability to cooperate with federal immigration officials.
House Bill 318, dubbed the Protect North Carolina Workers Act, also requires state and local government agencies to use the E-Verify system to check the legal status of job applicants and contractors, bars government agencies or law enforcement from using consular or embassy documents to verify someone's identity or residence and limits food assistance for able-bodied, childless adults who are unemployed.
Latino advocates had lobbied McCrory intensely in recent weeks, urging him to veto the legislation. Not only did he ignore their pleas, he signed the bill in front of members of his Advisory Council on Hispanic and Latino Affairs in a city that had expressed opposition to the proposal.
"Each individual arriving here in a legal manner, following our laws, in search of a better life is a blessing to our state and to our country. We want to continue that strength of our great country, but in doing so, we must follow the law and not tie the hands of the men and women behind me," McCrory said at the Guilford County Sheriff's Office. "We're going to enforce the law and help our law enforcement officers protect our citizens."
Several North Carolina municipalities, including Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro, have so-called "sanctuary city" policies that instruct law enforcement and other officials not to ask the immigration status of people with whom they come into contact or even ignore deportation orders in some cases.
The issue made national headlines this summer when a woman was killed in San Francisco, a sanctuary city, by a Mexican national who had been released from jail despite federal requests to detain him for deportation proceedings. President Barack Obama's administration has said such policies endanger citizens.
"When I go to other countries, I go legally and adhere to the laws," Guilford County Sheriff B.J. Barnes said at the bill signing. "Can we not, as the greatest nation in the world, expect others to do the same?"
Addy Jeffrey, a community advocate in Greensboro, said signing the bill at the sheriff's office "feeds into the idea that these people (undocumented immigrants) are here to somehow here to hurt our families."
Jeffrey noted that an undocumented woman called her after her daughter was raped because she feared law enforcement would discover she was in the U.S. illegally if she called police for help.
"Whoever that man is is probably still walking the streets of Greensboro because that mother was too scared to call the police," Jeffrey said. "I'm hopeful that, moving forward, we will still be able to change this."
Maria Cortez Perez said the law will pose difficulties for her and her family because all of the identification they have been using is now invalid in North Carolina.
"My family will have a hard time to obtain my sister's birth certificate because they weren't born here. Some of my family members won't be able to get married," she said. "How am I going to cut on my electricity, my heat, when I move out by myself?"
Cortez Perez also criticized the exemption in the law for agricultural workers.
"The government is sending me a message by saying, 'Hey, we don't want immigrants in our state, but let's keep those that are working in our fields," she said.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP joined Latino groups in denouncing the new state law.
"By making it harder for people to identify themselves to government officials, discouraging undocumented people from reporting crime and banning local governments from passing measures aimed at improving public safety, this law makes all North Carolinians less safe," Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a statement. "Immigrants play important roles in our communities and economy. Laws like this encourage discrimination, send the message that North Carolina is unwelcoming and make it harder for law enforcement officers to do their job keeping all members of the community safe."
"In signing this bill, Gov. Pat McCrory sided with extremists at the expense of common sense," state NAACP President Rev. William Barber said in a statement. "This law hurts businesses, local governments, persons living in poverty and North Carolina’s immigrant families, which face an increasingly unwelcoming and inhumane environment despite their enormous economic and cultural contributions to the state. HB 318 will undermine safety, foster discrimination and racial profiling and force local governments to allocate funds against their will. It’s a shameful law for North Carolina."
Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO expressed frustration about the provision limiting food assistance to some unemployed North Carolinians.
Under federal law, food assistance for able-bodied adults with no children is supposed to last only 90 days unless the recipient is working or volunteering at least 20 hours a week or is in job training. During the recession, the government allowed exceptions to that rule, but House Bill 318 prohibits the state from seeking further waivers after the current one expires at the end of the year.
"Signing an abusive law dishonestly named the ‘Protect North Carolina Workers Act’ is proof for any voter who still needed it that their governor cannot be trusted to defend working people," MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO, said in a statement.
Julie Peeples, pastor of Congregation United Church of Christ in Greensboro, called the law "immoral."
"It's unjust. It will only create more poverty and more hunger," Peeples said.