Commentary

Immigrants become the punching bag of broken immigration system

If we thought that 2015 was a bad year for immigrants living in North Carolina and elsewhere in the U.S., the start of 2016 has not fared much better. Those seeking refuge from persecution, arguably the most vulnerable types of people coming to our country, continue to be scapegoated as threats of terrorism by local elected officials; most recently Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews. Additionally, the Obama administration announced a series of raids to start the new year targeting Central American families who entered the U.S. during the recent surge escaping dire violence in their home countries.

The raids, whether targeted or not, instill fear in the minds of immigrants living in the U.S. even if documented. There are thousands of immigrants in NC who live in mixed-status families or who have U.S. citizen children and spouses. Living with the constant fear of losing a parent, a spouse, or a loved one is extraordinarily difficult. Children have to attend school with the looming concern that when they get home, their parent may be gone.

Somehow, the political discourse inappropriately distinguished the deservingness of Syrian refugees from those coming from Central America. On one hand, the administration announced that the U.S. would take 10,000 Syrian refugees due to the dangerous conditions in Syria despite the protest of state elected officials, including Gov. Pat McCrory . Yet, the recent raids are reportedly targeting individuals who sought to escape grave danger in Central America. There is a reason why San Pedro Sula in Honduras, for example, has been named the murder capital of the world. This dichotomy is inexplicable and should lead policy makers to a serious discussion on how our country treats refugees. While the international community and these countries learn how to address their spiraling violence, the U.S. needs a system that affords due process and fair shot at asylum for those who seek refuge within our borders.

The concerns voiced by people like Sheriff Andrews are both unnecessary and unfounded. Yet, as wrong as these statements are, they have guided the political discourse both at the local and federal level in a pivotal electoral campaign season. We cannot let individuals escaping deadly violence and grave threats in their home countries become a proverbial political punching bag. Instead, we, as a country, must understand that the parents and children the Obama administration is deporting are the embodiment of the huddled masses yearning to be free.

Commentary

McCrory’s epic fail in immigration enforcement

McCrory_budget305-aGovernor Pat McCrory expressed a tough stance regarding immigration enforcement during a recent segment of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor (see Rob Schofield’s post below). Unfortunately, the Governor’s lack of understanding about how immigration enforcement actually works further muddies the waters for law enforcement in North Carolina, is confusing in light of his previous statements and sends precisely the wrong message at this important time in history.

To be clear, McCrory was talking to O’Reilly about the infamous HB 318, which prohibits local governments from adopting policies that bar or discourage their police agencies from gathering information about a person’s immigration status. Gov. McCrory stated there were five such jurisdictions in the state without mentioning, or possibly even knowing, that the policies in those cities were already rendered largely obsolete by the activation of the federal government’s “Secure Communities” program throughout the state, which required the sharing of fingerprints between the local law enforcement agency and immigration enforcement. The so-called sanctuary policies that existed before passage of HB 318 did little to protect those arrested (due to operation of Secure Communities), but they did a lot to foster trust with victims and witnesses of crime.

McCrory also claimed that the law will “unleash the handcuffs” from police officers who want to enforce the law. This is wrong. McCrory’s own interpretation of the new law released just last month stated that it “does not require law enforcement to collect” information about immigration status. What’s more, as Chief Lopez of the Durham Police Department has explained with respect to his own city, this law could actually hurt policing. McCrory’s mixed signals about the law’s execution seem likely to abet this process by helping to erode the trust needed between immigrant communities and the police.

In taking a strong stance against immigration, McCrory also sought to highlight the need for “teamwork” in public safety. But in any team, people play different positions. Just ask Carolina Panthers defensive star Luke Kuechly if he could or should try to take Cam Newton’s place at quarterback. It would make no more sense than it would for the SBI to start issuing parking citations.

The federal government’s message has always been consistent: immigration enforcement is a federal responsibility and such enforcement takes into consideration government resources, national security, and international relations. McCrory voiced a grudging understanding of the limited role of the state when it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis, yet he seems to ignore this obvious dichotomy when it comes to already immigrants living in our state.

Ultimately, McCrory’s various statements regarding North Carolina’s new law leave us with at least three negative takeaways:

First, by sending mixed signals, he make it difficult for people to decipher what the law does.

Second, he clearly signed a law that hurts law enforcement rather than helping it.

Third and most troubling, his rhetoric abandons who we are as a nation, straying from our moral duty to help those escaping persecution and poverty. Immigrants, regardless of status, contribute to the fabric of our communities and the state. History will judge the strength and character of our nation by how we treat those in need, and in time, McCrory’s abandonment of our core values will be deemed an epic fail.

[Editor’s note: Raul Pinto is a staff attorney in the Immigrant and Refugee Rights project at the North Carolina Justice Center.]