Amidst a flurry of legislation during this session’s waning hours, one provision added to HB 318 last week that would restrict how local communities deal with immigration will be heard in the House. As is so often the case with last minute bills, the real costs of this measure are not well understood, and they could be major.
The provision in question (on pages 5 and 6 of the bill) would invalidate local identification or policies that support local law enforcement efforts to achieve their goals for public safety and community building. This provision seems designed only to prevent local communities from implementing common-sense measures that protect public safety, and it could have negative consequences for local economies and local budgets.
Local public safety officials in Greensboro joined community leaders yesterday to caution state policymakers against moving ahead with this legislation. They cited in particular the challenges it will have in helping immigrants report crimes and the likelihood that it will increase arrests as police will be unable to identify community members. A Burlington police officer shared: “If they limit the type of ID that we can accept, you’re gonna have a whole lot more people that are arrested and booked into jails tying up valuable law enforcement resources.”
In previous work on the importance of documentation to public safety efforts and as a cost-effective measure for local governments, we documented that:
- A lack of identification limits access to public utilities, ability to participate in the local economy and work or participate in civic life generating social and economic costs to the state.
- A lack of identification generates costs for local public safety budgets as more folks are processed and held to determine their identity and police resources are diverted away from solving or stopping criminal activities.
Increasingly, across the country, local governments are recognizing that effective community policing requires identification and integration of immigrants into the community. From the National League of Cities:
Public safety requires the involvement of the city’s entire community, including its immigrant population. Policy need to remain aware of the people and problems within their district to mitigate crime and address its causes. For community policing to function well, relationships and open communication with immigrant and trust are essential for gathering information and knowing the community.”
Moreover, the language in the provision is so broad that it could directly impact immigrants and non-immigrants alike as some don’t have identification documents. In Greensboro yesterday, officials spoke of how community identification has helped homeless individuals as well as elderly people.
Economic reality is driving many local communities to adopt approaches to immigration that promote public safety, integration and leverage immigrants as community assets. Immigrants are increasingly important to the economic vitality of North Carolina communities, both rural and urban. For example, immigrants now make up more than 20% of all main street business owners in North Carolina, a major increase over decades past. Facts like this have produced local immigrant integration efforts that serve to position the state to have smart policies that support good economic and public safety outcomes.
All told, this is a provision that deserves extensive discussion and evaluation, not a rushed vetting at the 11th hour. A lack of federal immigration reform has forced a lot communities to seek solutions that make sense in their local context, and HB 318 as currently written would stop those productive efforts.