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End push for punitive N.C. immigration laws

Maybe dollars and cents will do what common sense hasn’t in the N.C. legislature: end the push for problematic, punitive and unnecessary state immigration proposals.

A state study, mandated by an N.C. law passed last year, provides some basis for hope. The state Department of Public Safety report shows that adopting measures such as Arizona’s “show me your papers” law, requiring undocumented prisoners to repay the state for their incarceration, and denying driving privileges to undocumented immigrants could cost the state money.

The 50-page study, released publicly last week, prompted the sponsor of the legislation mandating the study to say some of the proposals might not be essential. Said Rep. Harry Warren, R-Rowan: “They might be, and I stress might be, something that would be expendable.”

If lawmakers do the math, they’ll dispense with Warren’s squirrelly “might.” Taking into account – as the law requires – “the potential impact on... the economy, the community of lawful immigrants, the provision of social services, tax collection, law enforcement (as well as) the impact of similar measures enacted in other states,” those proposals deserve to die.

The impact analysis shows such controversial measures will likely have a negative impact. Adopting other states’ immigration measures especially would invite a buzz saw of problems. Most have faced constitutional challenges and failed. Most of the Arizona law’s provisions were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The study panned the idea of having undocumented prisoners pay for their own incarceration. The state would face losing money the federal government already pays the state for incarceration of undocumented immigrants. Such a plan would also increase administrative costs. And, there’s this: “It is unlikely the state would be able to recoup a significant amount of money from an incarcerated, undocumented immigrant.”

The study provided useful insights on allowing driving privileges for undocumented immigrants. It noted that driving privileges motivate drivers to comply with traffic laws. With more than 97,000 unlicensed drivers involved in traffic crashes in the state in 2013, “increasing the amount of licensed drivers ... should lead to safer driving in North Carolina,” the study said. It could also increase the number of insured drivers, since that is required for driving privileges. Driving privileges, the report notes, have the support of many law enforcers and businesses.

But the study also said some undocumented drivers might have trouble getting insurance. And if Nevada’s experience is replicated here, many undocumented immigrants would have difficulty passing the state’s driving test. In Nevada, 75 percent failed the test and were not given privileges. Still, Nevada came out ahead. Twenty-five percent who did not have licenses are now able to drive aware of and able to adhere to the state’s laws.

North Carolina allows the Division of Motor Vehicles to issue driver’s licenses to immigrants granted relief from deportation by the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Raul Pinto said last week that this study’s conclusion “was a good start for discussions between community and legislators” on further extending such privileges. We agree.

As for “anti-immigrant provisions... such as ‘show me your papers,’” Pinto has it right again, noting that “this study categorically states that those provisions are costly and unnecessary.” N.C. lawmakers should stop pursuing them.

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