Commentary

NC: Driving immigrants into the shadows

The Charlotte Observer editorial page does a good job today of explaining how our broken immigration system sets up good people for suffering and exploitation. As an editorial entitled “When undocumented workers are prey” explains, a woman is in jail today in North Carolina because she reported, accurately, that her employer was cheating her out of wages earned.

The woman in question, of course, was the subject of a weekend story in Raleigh’s News & Observer. As that story explained, the woman, Miriam Solais, is a one of many thousands of immigrants who entered the U.S. without authorization and then, in keeping with the country’s “nod and wink” employment system, obtained a false Social Security card. Here’s the Observer:

“It’s the type of scenario that immigration advocates have warned about for years. But it’s more than just small businesses paying poor wages under the table. Larger employers like poultry plants are notorious for an abusive culture that exploits a primarily Latino workforce. Criminals prey on Latinos who they know are reluctant to report crimes.

All of which endangers not just undocumented immigrants, but their families. The state’s answer to this? Laws that further push these families to the margins, including the newly minted ‘Protect North Carolina Workers Act,’ which bans sanctuary cities and jeopardizes children’s access to critical services by restricting their parents’ use of a common ID that foreign consulates issue.

That provision, signed into law last month by Gov. Pat McCrory, could block tens of thousands of U.S.-born children – who are U.S. citizens – from getting birth certificates or being enrolled in schools, the advocacy group NC Child said Monday.

The solution, as always, lies in Washington, but conservative Republicans continue to block reasonable immigration reform that would offer undocumented immigrants a chance to obtain legal status while continuing to lead productive lives here. Instead, conservatives insist on the fantasy of deporting more than 10 million immigrants.

While that stalemate endures, immigrants remain in limbo and in danger. Yes, Miriam Martinez Solais broke the law, along with millions of others who crossed the U.S. border. But she shouldn’t be left vulnerable to other lawbreakers – and to the broken immigration system that enables them.”

The editorial is right that the solution lies in Washington, but until that happens, there are steps we can and should take at the state and local levels that would make things much better. A new report today from the Center for American Progress (“Providing Identification to Unauthorized Immigrants”)  lists some of those steps. Unfortunately, as the editorial notes, for now, North Carolina is headed in precisely the wrong direction. And with the current hysteria being stirred up by politicians of both parties, things figure to get worse before they get better.

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