NC House immigration panel hears from employers

Posted February 29, 2012 4:01 a.m. EST
Updated February 29, 2012 5:40 p.m. EST

— North Carolina lawmakers considering what the state can do to clamp down on illegal immigration heard Wednesday from businesses that seek out cheap labor, and also got an earful from protesters who said they're in the country illegally.

The state House committee's meeting was disrupted near the end by a handful of young Hispanics wearing T-shirts saying "Undocumented and Unafraid." They shouted their opposition after Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, decried illegal immigrants as the source of drug and gun crime.

Three people were arrested and taken to the Wake County jail, General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver said. 

Uriel Alberto, Estephania Mijangos-Lopez and Cynthia Martinez, who are members of the pro-immigrant group N.C. Dream and say they are undocumented, were charged with disorderly conduct. 

Viridiana Martinez, 25, of Raleigh said she's lived illegally in North Carolina since her parents brought her to the state at age 7. She noted that the 12-member House Select Committee on the State's Role in Immigration Policy is stocked with some of the chamber's most ardent backers of state action to crack down on illegal immigrants.

"That says to me that these folks are out to come after us. They're going to do whatever it takes to make the situation as terrible as possible right here in our home to make us leavem" said Martinez, a freelance interpreter. "We're not going to remain quiet about it."

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 committee also heard from representatives of the home building, construction and farming industries. North Carolina Home Builders Association lobbyist Lisa Martin said her group supported Congress, not states, addressing immigration. While government should back training and retraining programs for the construction trades, "the homebuilding industry needs a strong and ready workforce," she said.