Raleigh, N.C. — A bill that passed the House Regulatory Reform Committee on Wednesday would ban law enforcement agencies from recognizing community-based or other non-state-issued identification cards.
A law passed in 2015 banned local and state agencies from recognizing consular or community IDs. However, it made an exception for law enforcement because the state association of police chiefs protested, saying they need to be able to identify the people with whom they interact.
House Bill 1069, sponsored by Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, would repeal that exception.
"Since we gave that exemption," said Cleveland, "Faith Action International commenced big-time distribution of identity cards, and we had numerous law enforcement entities across the state participating."
Faith Action International House is a nonprofit in Greensboro that produces community IDs for people who cannot otherwise obtain a state ID. The group won an award for its work from the Greensboro Police Department in 2012.
"I did not realize there would be an organization out there issuing cards the way matricula cards were issued, that had no validity," Cleveland said. "I couldn't move forward in good conscience knowing we haven't made any gains suppressing the illegal population in this state."
Co-sponsor Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth, said she believes the nonprofit has issued nearly 1,500 IDs in the Triad area in the past year.
"It has gotten out of hand," Conrad said. "They also, to me, are a magnet for drawing the illegal immigrant community to North Carolina. They will gravitate to where they know they can be and where federal law is not enforced."
Cleveland claimed that undocumented immigrants are costing the state $1.7 billion a year, though he did not offer the committee a source for that figure.
"We have 13,500 on welfare in the state, Medicaid. We have about 2,400 as far as I can tell incarcerated – everything from murder to rape to child molestation," he told the committee. 'If we had a valid program for illegal aliens through the years, we would not have these things happening in our state, at least not at the rate they are."
"I hope we don't create facts without support," responded Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham, pointing out that "no report or study" backs up Cleveland's and Conrad's claims.
The legislation would also tighten the requirements for using E-Verify to check job applicants' immigration status.
Current law requires employers with 25 or more employees to use the federal system. House Bill 1069 would reduce that threshold to five or more employees and would also remove an exception for employees who work less than nine months per year, although farm workers, independent contractors and domestic help would continue to be exempted.
"We're allowing an illegal population to grow in this state," Cleveland said, arguing that undocumented workers are driving down wages for U.S. citizens. "These people came here for economic gain. They're here illegally, and they're taking our citizens' jobs."
North Carolina Sheriffs' Association lobbyist Doug Miskew spoke against the ID ban.
"The sheriffs have had long conversations about this as a practical issue," Miskew told the committee. Being barred from using non-state-issued IDs – even as a last option – "really makes a challenge for the practical work that they're doing every day."
Hall urged the bill's sponsors to discuss the proposal with law enforcement groups. Cleveland said he had asked for input from both the police chiefs' and sheriffs' associations, but neither had responded.
"You can't have a partnership and discussion with individuals who are ignoring you," said co-sponsor Rep. Chris Millis, R-Pender.
"Law enforcement will have to work with it," Cleveland said.
The bill passed the committee on a largely party-line vote. Its next stop is in House Appropriations.
Faith Action International responds
Rev. David Fraccaro, director of the Greensboro non-profit, said law enforcement agencies have "uniformly" praised the group's ID program, which has issued some 6,000 community IDs over the past three and a half years. He said Greensboro and Burlington police departments were their first partners in the project.
Fraccaro says two Triad medical centers, Wake Forest Baptist and Moses Cone, have publicly endorsed the program, while Cincinnati is planning to replicate it there.
"We’ve not tried to make it political. This isn’t about immigration; it’s about public safety," he said. "This is something we should be proud of."
Fraccaro says applicants must have proof of identity and proof of address from a list of acceptable documents and must sign a contract indicating they understand how the card may be used. He said they've had only one case of one of their IDs being used fraudulently.
"It’s truly ridiculous that, in three and half years, they didn’t bother to call once," he said of the bill's sponsors. "They should do their due diligence, not make up stuff that’s based out of fear."
He added that the IDs also help the elderly, homeless people, people recently released from prison and others who may not have the documents to get a state ID.
For example, Fraccaro said, the group issued an ID to an 80-year-old woman who needed one for a medical procedure. He said she was turned away by the Division of Motor Vehicles because she didn't have the required birth certificate, having been born at home to a midwife in rural North Carolina.
The ID card was accepted by the hospital, so she was finally able to have the badly needed procedure.
"She called it a life-saver," he said.
El Pueblo, a Latino advocacy group, said the bill's supporters are "firmly on the wrong side of history."
"Despite protests from local police departments and human rights groups who see the value of these identification programs, these legislators are targeting the most vulnerable in our state by furthering distrust between local authorities and their respective communities, as well as making the job of police officers even more difficult by taking away their ability to identify residents when timing is of the essence," El Pueblo spokesman William Saenz said in a statement.