As Tuesday afternoon’s N.C. House Judiciary II committee got under way, it was quickly apparent to Rep. John Blust (R-Guilford) that House Bill 63 – the “Citizens Protection Act of 2017” – was not quite ready for prime time.
Blust, who chairs the committee, said he’d hoped to have a vote on the bill Tuesday – but the committee will instead have to have its third hearing on it next week.
“It’s the opinion of the chair we need to take sufficient time to get all questions answered,” Blust said. “We certainly don’t want to rush something through and get something wrong.”
Committee members had a lot of questions about the bill, aimed at increasing penalties for producing and selling fake IDs and withholding state controlled funding from “sanctuary cities” that don’t cooperate with state and federal laws on immigration. A number of members of the public also came to speak against the bill – some experts on immigration and the law.
Hanz Christian Linnartz, a Raleigh immigration attorney, said he was most concerned with the bill’s third section, which would create “a rebuttable presumption against pre-trial release of certain undocumented aliens.”
Linnartz said there is no evidence that the undocumented are a greater flight risk than anyone else and that judges already have the discretion to deny pre-trial release if it is warranted.
Rep. Joe John (D-Wake) echoed that sentiment. A former judge on the N.C. Court of Appeals, Superior Court and District Court, John said he was uneasy with curtailing judicial discretion.
“So the discretion is taken away from the judge, even on something as simple as using a fake ID?” John asked.
Chris Storie of Granite Falls said she’d like to see that discretion curtailed in cases involving undocumented people.
The one person who came to speak in favor of the bill, Storie shared her personal story with the committee. Her brother, Joe Storie, was struck and killed by a drunk driver in 2011 while on vacation in Kill Devil Hills. The driver, an undocumented man from Honduras, was released on bail and fled.
Storie said an American suspect “wouldn’t have known how to flee like illegal immigrants do.”
Other experts, from domestic violence advocates to an OGGYN from UNC Hospital, spoke against the bill saying it is likely to make immigrant communities less likely to seek help from authorities when they need it or even get proper medical care because they will become more afraid of interacting with the government.
“The rebuttable presumption that there will be no bail is very problematic,” said Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford). “We’re obviously going to have to discuss this more but I think it’s constitutionally suspect – and we’re setting up a situation where we’re treating certain people more harshly. Obviously, as we heard from some people today, that can have consequences.”