Up to 100 new immigration judges would be added under Biden budget request

Forced ICE cooperation bill would shift costs to already hard-hit local governments

A proposal moving through the North Carolina General Assembly would further shift costs to local governments to score ideological points with those seeking stricter immigration enforcement even as the evidence shows that forced cooperation with ICE doesn’t make communities safer.  

Senate Bill 101, which passed the Senate last week, is modeled after bills introduced in previous sessions, with only some modifications that won’t protect local governments from the likelihood of lawsuits, nor reduce the pressure on local budgets.  

In 2019, the Budget & Tax Center analyzed then House Bill 370 to assess the impact on local budgets of forced ICE cooperation. The cumulative cost of ICE cooperation over a decade at that time was estimated at nearly $82 million. Under a proposal that would seek to increase the number of detainers issued, a forward-looking estimate of what local governments could expect is likely higher.  

That is even more so the case during COVID-19.    

Forced cooperation with ICE raises grave concerns about overcrowding and pushes against recommendation to reduce jail admissions during a pandemic. Analysis of local jail populations by the UNC School of Government found that in 2019, 41 percent of jails exceed capacity in one month, while 56 percent exceed 90 percent of jail capacity. National research has found that many people are held in jail pre-trial and that increasing jail populations are in part a result of agreements that local jails make with federal and state agencies. During COVID-19, public health and criminal justice experts have recommended reducing jail admissions because they have been documented to spread infectious diseases. Yet forcing cooperation with federal immigration agencies would increase the number of people entering local jails and could impact the global fight to end the pandemic. ICE has been connected to spreading the coronavirus, not just in the United States but across the globe.  

COVID-19 raises the costs of holding a person on an ICE detainer.  The costs of holding someone in jail have been underestimated in normal times and are likely to be much higher during the pandemic. Direct health care costs, along with the cost of staffing, maintaining social distancing and implementing other CDC guidelines, cost taxpayers.  These costs could, in part, be covered by state and federal dollars but Senate Bill 101 makes no provision for covering additional costs that would be incurred for holding someone for ICE.    

County budgets have been hit hard by the pandemic. While the full impact on the upcoming fiscal year budget is not entirely clear, a number of counties have had to reduce services because of revenue hits to fees and other revenue sources in the past fiscal year and could need to do the same going forwardLocal government employment has also remained below pre-COVID-19 levels. Raising costs for counties will require cuts to priority investments in vaccination campaigns, public schools, and infrastructure.  

The impacts of this legislation won’t be felt equally across the state.  

Small and rural counties have seen larger increases in jail costs in recent years: a 13 percent increase from 2007 to 2017 compared to just 2 percent for urban areas according to national analysis. Rural county budgets are also more likely to be hit hard by the downturn and less likely to receive aid to balance their budgets from state and federal governments.   

Senate Bill 101 demonstrates that Senate leaders continue to pursue hate, not fiscal constraint.

Alexandra Sirota is the Director of the N.C. Budget & Tax Center.

From limited changes to ag worker visas to a comprehensive immigration overhaul – what political and business leaders want

Attorney General Josh Stein

Politicians, businesspeople, and academic leaders from North and South Carolina spoke up for changes to U.S. immigration laws last week. Some supported comprehensive changes, while others focused on narrower issues.

The American Business Immigration Coalition Carolinas’ Chapter held the summit last week, where most participants provided prerecorded statements.

The coalition wants bipartisan support for immigration bills in Congress, including two U.S. House bills – one that overhauls the H-2A temporary visa program for agricultural workers, and provides for undocumented farmworkers to gain legal status, and a second that gives DACA recipients who go to college, into the military or to work after high school a way to become citizens. The bills passed the House earlier this month.

The coalition also supports a comprehensive immigration overhaul introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The summit brought together politicians with diverse views, including NC Attorney General Josh Stein and Gov. Roy Cooper, both Democrats, and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican. A representative from U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s office also participated.

Not all spoke in support of the major changes the coalition wants.

Marty Kotis

Scott, in brief remarks, focused on the H-2A program.

Katherine Nikas, chief deputy counsel for Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, spoke of Graham’s long-standing support for DACA recipients, or Dreamers.

“This is their home, they don’t have any other to go back to,” she said.

Graham cosponsored a bill this year with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, that would allow DACA recipients to become permanent residents and citizens.

Discussions about Dreamers have been overshadowed by the thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, she said.

The country needs to find a solution for Dreamers “and not ignore the second wave at the border,” Nikas said.

Marty Kotis, a Greensboro businessman who describes himself as libertarian, said the country needs immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.

“We need a path to citizenship that is organized and safe that doesn’t encourage illegal activity,” he said. “We should expand opportunity for high and low-skilled workers who will be productive and respectful members of society. That requires immigration reform that provides opportunity and holds people accountable for their actions and their efforts in this country.”

Stein, who sued the Trump Administration in 2019 over its attempt to revoke DACA, said Congress should enact comprehensive changes.  The U.S. Senate should at least pass the immigration bills the House passed this month, he said.

“Our immigration system is broken,” he said. “For too long, too many politicians have used this issue to drive wedges among us to gain partisan advantage rather than doing the hard but necessary work of governing by developing balanced common-sense policies based on compromise.”

U.S. House passes Dreamers bill over GOP objections, as immigration debate intensifies

With REAL ID law going into effect in October, NC Democrats introduce bill to allow undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses

Proposed legislation introduced Wednesday in the North Carolina House (House Bill 311) would allow those without immigration paperwork to obtain a legal driver’s license from the state, with certain restrictions.

Rep. Ricky Hurtado, D-Alamance, is sponsoring a bill to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for restricted driver’s licenses.

At a press conference Thursday hosted by the Alianza de derechos de los Inmigrantes de Carolina del Norte, (the Immigrants’ Rights Alliance of North Carolina), bill sponsor Rep. Ricky Hurtado, an Alamance County Democrat, said providing undocumented immigrants access to a drivers’ license plays a pivotal role in building an inclusive and safe community.

Hurtado stressed that the purpose of the proposed licenses would merely be to provide paperwork for drivers’ identification for undocumented members of the community. It would not meet the requirements of a federal REAL ID.

Passed in 2005, the federal REAL ID Act requires states to adopt a set of safety standards for identification. Since then, states have transitioned to enhanced driver’s licenses that are compliant with REAL ID standards. The REAL ID law goes into effect Oct 1, 2021.

Individuals who can show proof of legal immigration status can hold REAL IDs that are valid for limited terms. North Carolina has already issued such driver’s licenses of shorter durations according to provisions in the statute.

In cases where the proof of citizenship or lawful presence is lacking, however, the REAL ID law does allow states to issue noncompliant IDs. The proposed restricted driver’s license in Hurtado’s bill is such an example.

Hurtado said even having the restricted IDs in place would be a huge step forward for North Carolinians. He said the bill is essential for many North Carolina immigrants who work on the front lines and would make them more comfortable when they’re visiting a doctor or trasnporting their kids to school.

Rev. David Fraccaro, the executive director of Faith Action International Health said at the conference Thursday that the bill will not only benefit hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants but also facilitate better safety for the community in general. He said a state-issued ID would lessen concerns of victims who fear reporting crimes to law enforcement because of their undocumented status. Fraccaro called on Republican members of the General Assembly to support the bill.

“This bill allows our communities to drive on the road, to have a place, to have a house, having identification dedication on their hands”, said Juvencio Rocha-Peralta, the executive director of the Association of Mexicans in North Carolina (AMEXCAN) at the press conference. “When somebody asked him who they are, at least they can say ‘this is my North Carolina ID.'”

Another bill sponsored by Senate Democrats would achieve similar effects. Both measures would add a new subsection to the law about restricted licenses and terms of eligibility.

Both bills would also require applicants for the proposed restricted driver’s license to be a resident of North Carolina and have paid state taxes. They would also need to pass the road test and prove insurance.

In addition, both bills propose a different design for these restricted IDs that makes them discernible from REAL IDs, in compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. However, a provision in the Senate bill specifically prohibits criminal investigation, arrest, or detention based on the possession of these IDs alone.

The Senate bill also includes language that specifies what the restricted driver’s license would only be good for establishing driving privileges, meaning that it couldn’t be used for access to federal buildings, eligibility for employment and benefits, or voting.

Hurtado’s House bill states that the cost to obtain these licenses would not exceed $53. The two bills have been referred to the Rules committees in their respective chambers.