North Carolina is set to vote on a piece of anti-immigration legislation on par with Arizona and Alabama’s racially-tinged laws that drew national attention and ire from immigration advocates. The Reasonable Enactment of Comprehensive Legislation Addressing Immigration Matters (RECLAIM) in North Carolina Act, or HB 786 would expand the scope of law enforcement officials with “reasonable suspicion” to authorize immigration status checks on anyone who has been lawfully stopped.
As in Alabama and Arizona, North Carolina police officers would be able to stop immigrants for minor infractions like having broken head lights and then inquire about their legal status. If the measure passes, a matricula consular ID, which are used by Mexican nationals, would no longer be acceptable as a valid form of identification. Undocumented immigrants who drive would be required to obtain a vertical, status-identifying driver’s licenses, which requires them to admit their unlawful status. Immigrant applicants would also be required to submit fingerprints and to pass a criminal background check. As a result of a requirement in which immigrants must prove that they have lived in North Carolina for a year, seasonal workers would likely not qualify.
The measure also allows for law enforcement officials to have the ability to “securely transport an alien… to a federal facility” potentially without ever having seen a lawyer. It specifies, “a law enforcement agency shall obtain judicial or executive authorization from the Governor before securely transporting an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States to a point of transfer that is outside this State.”
The RECLAIM NC Act comes in the wake of a lawsuit against Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio in which his office has been accused of aggressively targeting and detaining Hispanic drivers. In numerous cases, Arpaio’s office was found to have stopped or harassed Hispanic drivers over minor speeding infractions when other drivers of a different national origin were let go. Along with Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, and Nebraska, North Carolina legislators had initially prohibited the issuance of driver’s licenses to immigrants who qualified under the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which granted a two-year work authorization for individuals who had graduated from high school.
The hurdles posed by North Carolina’s law could severely undermine public safety benefits since immigrants would feel more inclined to stay in the shadows rather than to drive with a restricted driver’s licenses that bears the words, “no lawful status.” Aside from diverting state resources into prosecuting undocumented immigrants, NC also stands to lose money like Arizona did with SB-1070 from immigrant businesses and tourists who may be leery of law enforcement officials who can ask for their legal status. Although enforcing a “restricted” identification card has already been done in several other states, it only widens the divide of integrating immigrants into a society where they would be forced to carry the prominent fuchsia markings of their undocumented status.