Governor 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.]