by Matt Lamb
Other states are doing a better job of dealing with the problems created by the influx of illegal immigrants than North Carolina. The Democrat-controlled General Assembly seems not to care about the deterioration that is taking place all around us. Serious legislation was introduced during the session, but nothing of significance was accomplished.
Like many other states, North Carolina is struggling to cope with the effects of illegal immigration. The number of illegal immigrants in the state is thought to be between 300,000 and 600,000. The effects of this mass importation of unassimilated immigrants are well documented. North Carolina’s spending on illegal immigrants is estimated at $997 million per year – incarceration costs, welfare benefits, education, etc.
The surge in illegal immigration has exacerbated the state’s population growth issues. During the 1990s, North Carolina was one of the fastest-growing states in the country as the major population centers of Charlotte, the Triad, and the Triangle exploded with growth. Overall, the state’s population increased by 1.4 million, or 21 percent. During the same period, the state began experiencing the effects of mass immigration as the foreign-born population (both legal and illegal) increased 274 percent. This additional growth has increased demands for government services, caused school overcrowding and increased criminal activity.
Illegal immigration also feeds the problem of violent street gangs. Latin American gangs like MS-13 first appeared on the streets of Charlotte, but have since spread to the Triad, Triangle and beyond. Illegal immigrants who are members of these gangs have been connected to a number of vicious crimes, including the 2004 Durham murder of Chanda Brown Mwicigi – whose killer carved “MS” into her leg.
America’s Identity Must Be Respected
But the biggest problem with illegal immigration is its impact on America’s identity. No one expects immigrants to drop their cultural and familial ties to their native country. Indeed, the generations of immigrants who came to America during the early 20th century maintained close ties with their families abroad, while providing labor that fueled unprecedented economic expansion. But they came here legally and in controlled numbers.
In contrast, the illegal immigrants who have flocked to North Carolina and other states since the 1990s have come in massive numbers in an incredibly short period of time. Such a sudden, dramatic demographic shift does not occur without serious consequences.
Greater control over illegal immigration would protect traditional American values and customs from being eroded. But while we are all a product of multiple identities, we should still recognize that there is only one American identity – the two most important facets are respect for the law and the English language. Out of respect for this identity, immigrants should enter the country legally and learn to speak English. Even in a free country there are societal norms that everyone is expected to follow, and a person in the country illegally has already flouted these norms.
Other States Taking Action
Since Congress failed to pass comprehensive immigration legislation this year, many state legislatures have realized that they must implement policies to make it more difficult for illegals to locate, live and work in their states. As of July 2, a total of 1,404 immigration bills had been introduced in all 50 state legislatures – 170 became law.
On April 17, 2006, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue (R) signed the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act into law. It includes eight different provisions for cutting down on illegal immigration. Most prominently, it requires people seeking state benefits that are restricted to Georgia residents to sign an affidavit stating that they are either a U.S. citizen or a legal alien. Those who claim to be legal aliens have their identities checked against a federal database. This provision includes exceptions for people 18 and under, for emergency care, and for prenatal care. The law also cracks down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants. It requires companies that contract with the state to verify workers’ legal status, severely restricts the use of wages paid to illegals as tax credits, and requires employers to withhold taxes from wages paid to illegals. It also implements law enforcement measures, including the authorization of police to receive training in immigration law enforcement; the creation of a state human trafficking offense to complement the federal offense; a requirement that jail personnel check the legal status of inmates charged with a felony or a DUI offense; and limits what services non-lawyers can provide through immigration assistance companies.
Colorado soon followed Georgia’s example with Governor Bill Owens calling a July 2006 special session of the General Assembly to address immigration issues. Owens, a Republican, worked with the Democrat General Assembly to enact a number of new laws, some of which were similar to the Georgia measures. Access to public services by illegals was restricted; employers were required to withhold taxes from illegals’ pay; and new crimes relating to involuntary servitude and extortion were created to combat human trafficking. Colorado also enacted several reforms of its own, including restrictions on economic development grants to companies employing illegal immigrants; identification requirements for business permits; and a requirement that all employers confirm the legal work status of new employees.
On July 2 of this year, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano signed the Fair and Legal Employment Act. It is the country’s strictest law against employers of illegal immigrants. Employers that intentionally employ illegal workers will now have their business licenses suspended for a first offense and, in some cases, permanently revoked for another offense. Napolitano, a Democrat, said upon signing the law, “We’re dealing somewhat in uncharted territory now – uncharted territory because of the inability of the Congress to act. The states will take the lead, and Arizona will take the lead among the states.”
North Carolina Inaction
Despite the fact that numerous states have reached bipartisan consensus on immigration reform, the North Carolina General Assembly has been very slow to act on this issue; some might say the majority has refused to act on this critically important issue.
More than 20 bills targeting illegal immigration were introduced during the 2007 session. These bills included such measures as worker verification, training of state and local police to enforce immigration laws, verification of inmates’ legal status, regulation of immigration service providers, proof of citizenship for public benefits, and elimination of tax breaks for wages paid to illegal immigrants. However, none of these proposals were even given a committee hearing, apparently because the Democrat legislative leaders preferred to keep them under wraps.
More than a dozen smaller bills were introduced dealing with ID fraud, in-state college tuition, voter identification, arrest authority over illegals, and withholding of taxes from illegals’ wages. Only two bills became law during the 2007 session: SB 1026, which ensures that temporary residents’ driver’s licenses expire at the same time as their legal presence in the country; and SB 229, which requires law enforcement authorities to determine the legal status of those arrested for a felony or impaired driving offense.
Polling by the Civitas Institute has found significant support for strict enforcement legislation: 86 percent believe that voters should be required to show a photo ID before casting a ballot; 84 percent believe that illegal immigrants found guilty of drunk driving should be deported; 61 percent believe illegal immigrants have a negative impact on the state’s resources; and 64 percent agree that the growing number of illegal immigrants is a threat to American customs and values. With public opinion so strong, one would expect a strong, bipartisan push for immigration reform, such as has occurred in Georgia, Colorado and Arizona.
North Carolina Can’t Be a Haven for Illegals
In contrast to leaders in Georgia, Colorado and Arizona, North Carolina’s leaders have shown little desire to deal with the flow of illegal immigrants into our state. They must allow innovative proposals for encouraging illegal immigrants to make a home here to be debated and voted on, instead of preventing bills from being reported out of committee in order to protect their political and electoral futures.
Illegal immigrants who are being pushed out of other states are coming to North Carolina. They must be stopped. It is more important to halt the influx of illegals than to make certain that some politicians get reelected next year.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Matthew Lamb is a senior at Duke University, with a double major in political science and public policy.)