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NC immigration proposals get mixed review in study

By Martha Waggoner
Associated Press

A sponsor of proposed immigration laws in North Carolina says a study shows some of the more stringent ones may be costly or unnecessarily repetitive.

The state Department of Public Safety released the study at the request of legislators, who ordered the review rather than voting on the proposals in the last session.

The bill includes proposals such as one similar to Arizona’s “show-me-your-papers” law and another that would require people in the state illegally to reimburse the state for their incarceration.

Rep. Harry Warren says the study shows the proposals may not be essential.

“They might be, and I stress might be, something that would be expendable,” said Warren, R-Rowan.

Legislators ordered the study by the state Department of Public Safety after coming to loggerheads over the bill – GOP leaders said a proposal to allow driving permits for people in the state illegally was the main sticking point.

The “show-me-your-papers” proposal is redundant because officers already can question a person’s immigration status when they’re stopped for other reasons, the study says. Federal law prohibits stopping a person solely on the suspicion that the person is in the country illegally, the study says.

Having people in the country illegally pay for their incarceration costs could cost the state money for several reasons, including the likely loss of federal funds that reimburse the state for those costs and the low likelihood of getting money from the person before they’re deported, the study said.

Outlining the issues

“It seemed to have two clearly demarcated issues at hand,” said Raul Pinto, a staff attorney with the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The first is the rejection of the anti-immigrant provisions … the provisions we took issues with, such as show-me-your-papers. The study categorically states that those provisions are costly and aren’t necessary for the state of North Carolina.”

The second, Pinto said, was the issue of driving privileges. The ACLU believes the study’s conclusion “was a good start for discussions between the community and legislators,” he said.

The study concludes that giving driving permits to immigrants in the state illegally should lead to safer driving, although there’s no established statistical basis to verify that conclusion. The permits also could help law enforcement officers because more people would have verifiable identification, the study said.

“Tens of thousands of people are in the state illegally, driving illegally without insurance and without proof that they know how to drive,” Warren said. Allowing them to take the tests to get licenses should improve the safety of everyone on the road, he said.

“We also have to look at the social cost if we do nothing,” Warren said, pointing out that motorists have resources now if they’re in an accident with someone who has no driver’s license and no insurance.

The downsides

The study also lists the downsides to issuing the licenses, including more resources needed for the Division of Motor Vehicles and the influx of applicants, many of whom may not pass the exam. That possibility is based on the experience in Nevada, where 75 percent of people in the state illegally failed the exam, the DPS report says.

“Thus, while the demand may be high, many potential applicants may not be able to pass and therefore, may not be able to obtain a temporary driving privilege,” the study says.

“We also have to look at the social cost if we do nothing,” Warren said, pointing out that motorists have resources now if they’re in an accident with someone who has no driver’s license.

While numbers are hard to pin down, the Department of Homeland Security estimated that about 400,000 immigrants lived in North Carolina illegally as of January 2011. A Pew study from 2010 had put that number at 250,000 – ninth-largest in the country – out of a total immigrant population of 325,000.

Controlling the narrative

The study reminds legislators of the contradicting interests involved in the immigrant issue. For example, some industries support the driving permits because they make it easier for their workers to get to the job, the report says.

“However, just as increases in population lead to economic benefits for retailers, population increases also lead to an increased burden on infrastructure, schools and other government services that must be paid for with tax dollars generated by residents and businesses,” the study concludes.

The report points out “negatives, redundancies and some positives,” Warren said. “It gives me a good platform to craft the bill in such a way that we may be able to address it in the short session.”

And that’s important, he said, because of the problems in getting Congress and the president to agree on immigration reform. “We as a state need to be able to take some measure to control the narrative in North Carolina,” he said.

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