Jones Street was screaming on a recent Tuesday afternoon. In front of the legislative building, the scene was chaotic—cars honking against each other, moving slower than the water droplets rolling off of the signs taped to their windows and hoods.
“Stop Terrorizing Immigrant Families,” the signs read.
“STOP S.B. 101.”
“CARAVANA EN CONTRA DE S.B. 101 & H.B. 62.”
As the blinking cars circled the block, El Colectivo NC representatives held a press conference inside the building to oppose two bills that immigrant advocates are urging Governor Roy Cooper to veto.
Senator Wiley Nickel, a Democrat from Cary, recalled that Cooper vetoed similar legislation in 2019. The governor called it “partisan political pandering” with the intention of “scoring partisan political points, and using fear to divide North Carolina.”
“Now, version 2.0 is just more of the same,” Nickel said.
In February, Republicans in both legislative chambers filed bills aiming to force local governments to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Nickel referred to Senate Bill 101, entitled “Require Cooperation with ICE 2.0.” The second bill, House Bill 62, is known as “Gov. Immigration Compliance.”
The two bills are slightly different: the House bill nullifies “sanctuary ordinances” in local communities, meaning that local law enforcement would have to enforce federal immigration laws. The Senate bill would require law enforcement to look into the immigration status of anyone charged with certain crimes, such as felony drug charges, and misdemeanor or felony assaults. They’d also have to follow ICE detainers, and report the number of times they make a query to ICE, or how many times someone was detained or released because of their immigration status.
“Let me be clear, H.B. 62 is just flat out terrible policy,” Representative Ricky Hurtado (D-Alamance) said at the press conference. “House Republicans want to open the floodgates to harassment and discrimination from an unlimited number of baseless lawsuits from literally anyone in the community. And the standing to sue is rooted in a concept of sanctuary [that] we don’t even have a formal definition for.”
The anti-immigrant group Center for Immigration Studies says that North Carolina has six sanctuary jurisdictions, more than any other state in the South. In our state, these jurisdictions are areas where law enforcement does not have to act on ICE detainers—which aren’t binding anyway—but policy varies across the country. Sanctuary jurisdictions comply with federal law and don’t shield undocumented migrants from being charged with crimes, according to the American Immigration Council.
North Carolina ordinances received attention when former President Donald Trump started promoting his mass deportation agenda and disdain for sanctuary cities. Buncombe and Forsyth counties enacted ordinances in February 2019; a month later, the first compliance requirement bill was filed in the state House. The 2019 bill was ratified and sent to the governor in August of that year; he vetoed it the next day. The bill went back to the House and sat dormant for the rest of the session.
At the time, state Senator Chuck Edwards (R-Buncombe) said that Cooper was siding with the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Department after the department did not comply with a detainer for an undocumented immigrant who posted bond twice after being charged with kidnapping and assault. Edwards filed the 2021 Senate bill, which is almost word-for-word the bill from 2019.
“I cannot fathom how anybody could support shielding an illegal immigrant who rapes or murders a North Carolinian,” Edwards said in a statement. “Removing violent criminals who are here illegally should be a unanimous priority.”
Despite Edwards’ feelings, multiple national studies have found no correlation between sanctuary municipalities and higher crime rates. These ordinances could actually deter crime, sociologists say, by building trust. Hurtado mentioned this Tuesday.
“If this bill becomes law, it sows distrust in the immigrant community, leading to lower levels of cooperation with law enforcement and local government,” Hurtado said.
Dory MacMillan, the governor’s press secretary, called the bills “unconstitutional,” and said they “will cost the state significant resources to defend, and worse, spark fear that exploits for political gain.”
If Cooper vetoes either bill, it’s unlikely that Republicans could pull off an override. If they somehow did make it work, minority groups, such as those included in El Colectivo, would likely sue the state. Florida passed a similar law in 2019; multiple groups sued and the complaints are still being litigated in federal court.
These also aren’t the only two anti-immigrant bills filed this session. The Verification of Immigration Status, or the SAVE Act, whose primary sponsor also authored H.B. 62, would require licensing boards and benefit services to have applicants’ immigration status verified. Undocumented migrants are already barred from licensing and benefits by the federal government. This bill is still in committee.
Hurtado noted that the state and country face a lot of challenges at the moment, but immigrants going on crime sprees and abusing government benefits are not among them.
“We need to prioritize what’s important for our working families, focus on economic security, access to health care, getting our kids back in school—not this political fear-mongering that continues to divide us,” Hurtado said. “If we’ve learned anything in the last four years, it’s that this just puts us down a bad road.”
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.