In North Carolina, undocumented immigrants have been unable to apply for a driver’s license since 2005. 

Since then, thousands of residents across the state have been driving in fear to get to work, go to school, and buy groceries, said Griselda Alonso from a podium inside the legislative building yesterday. One drive for an undocumented immigrant, Alonso said, could easily result in their deportation, and two state bills are designed to make that chance more likely.

“A driver’s license should not be a privilege. It is a necessity that we need to fulfill our daily lives,” Alonso said. “During the COVID pandemic, my community never stopped working since we don’t have access to financial aid the government gave and continues to give out.”

Alonso, a member of MOON (Mujerxs Organizando Oportunidades Notables / Women Organizing Notable Opportunities), was one of more than 50 residents and community organizers lobbying against  Senate Bill 101 and House Bill 62 — two pieces of legislation that strengthen the connections between local law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE]. 

The Senate bill, entitled Require Cooperation with ICE 2.0 Act, states that local law enforcement will check any detained person for residency status and contact ICE if insufficient documentation is provided. The House bill, the Gov. Immigration Compliance/Enjoin Ordinances Act, mandates that local governments cannot restrict federal immigration law to create “sanctuary policies, ordinances, or procedures” for undocumented immigrants. For many, this includes the ability to work, live, and even drive across the state, said Stefanie Arteaga, the Regional Immigrants’ Rights Strategist for the N.C. ACLU.

Each bill has passed in their respective chambers of origin and are still being debated by lawmakers.

“SB 101, HB 62, does nothing more than corrode the relationship of immigrant communities with local law enforcement and our government,” Arteaga said. “So we’re reiterating that what better way to continue to fight against these measures by allowing young people, by allowing people from across the state who have driven hours, to make sure that their story is heard.”

Two state lawmakers, Rep. Ricky Hurtado, a Democrat from Alamance County, and Sen. Mujtaba A. Mohammed, a Democrat from Mecklenburg, also spoke at the press conference in solidarity with the lobbyists.Their fellow lawmakers need to do more to support undocumented residents in North Carolina, they said. 

Throughout the press conference, speakers such as Manuel Mejia, an organizer for Democracy North Carolina, criticized the way these bills were crafted using partisan and anti-immigrant rhetoric and the ways state officials tried to justify the existence of SB 101 with misinformation about high crime rates committed by undocumented immigrants.

“SB 101 is a continuation of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that we’ve been hearing for the past couple of years,” Mejia said. “Here’s what I want to mention to the sponsors and to everyone who has voted in favor of SB 101 so far: statistics show that crimes committed by immigrants, whether documented or undocumented, are lower or similar to native-born individuals, not higher.”

Iliana Santillán, executive director of El Pueblo NC, said these bills reflect how many senators have not actually interacted with undocumented immigrant communities across the state. 

“I think that sometimes when we have conversations with legislators, they think of us as the ugly immigrant rhetoric that they hear, right?” Santillán told the INDY. “But once they start seeing faces, and they see young people, they see children, they see mothers coming here, I hope that it stays in their brain that proposing legislation that is harmful, they think of the faces they saw today.”

Earlier this year, Rep. Hurtado sponsored a bill calling for DMV agencies to begin giving undocumented immigrants limited driver’s licenses; Sen. Mohammed also sponsored a bill earlier this year calling for the state to begin giving in-state tuition to DACA students. 

But both say their bills were not being given priority. 

“Sadly, Senate Bill 672 has not even received an opportunity to be heard or debated in a committee meeting,” Mohammed said. “But please have no doubt, my colleagues and I will continue to advance legislation like this in the future and now, not for political points like we’ve seen with a lot of the fear mongering at the North Carolina General Assembly, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

Other speakers described how difficult it is for undocumented immigrants to access higher eduction. They must pay out-of-state tuition and can’t apply for most financial aid, rendering it impossible for many students from undocumented families to attend college. UNC-Chapel Hill’s nonresident tuition for this academic year, for example, is $34,882; N.C. State University’s and East Carolina University’s nonresident tuition, similarly, sit at $27,320 and $20,729 respectively. All three are more than double the in-state tuition amount, and all three are only accounting for tuition alone.

“I attended elementary, middle and high school in North Carolina,” said Brandy Fuentes, a member of Student Action with Farmworkers and one of the speakers at the press conference. “I do everything I’m supposed to do and more because my options are limited, and yet in this state—and country—I’m considered an alien.”

Lindsay Espinosa, an attendee at the lobby, said she came with the Immigrants Rights Alliance to support her peers against these bills. 

“Racism is a really bad problem and it plays a huge factor, sadly, in our society so I think it’s super frustrating,” Espinosa told the INDY. “And I think we should let the immigrants stay because they’re basically us, like the same thing.”

But the speakers were able to conclude the lobby on a positive note, with many congregating at the end of the press conference to chat and take photos. Many said they were happy to be there in support of their communities.

“It energizes me to see so many people willing to speak out against things that impact Latino and immigrant communities across North Carolina,” Rep. Hurtado told the INDY. “I think that it’s necessary to make sure folks know that some of the legislation being introduced in the General Assembly, like SB 101, are not just bad immigrant families, they’re bad for North Carolinians in general.”

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