Group launches hunger strike in Charlotte over immigration legislation

People protest immigration legislation outside of the government center in Charlotte.
People protest immigration legislation outside of the government center in Charlotte. WBTV

A group of people demanding that Gov. Pat McCrory veto a bill that cracks down on undocumented immigrants in the state is continuing a hunger strike Thursday outside the Charlotte Mecklenburg Government Center.

They began Wednesday afternoon, and participants said they intend to go without food until Friday afternoon. They are demanding that McCrory veto HB 318, which the General Assembly passed at the end of September.

McCrory has not signed the bill. A spokesperson told WBTV that the governor has until Oct. 30 but wouldn’t say if McCrory intended to veto it.

Some members of the immigrant community say the bill would make life hard for immigrants.

“There is no need for it. It is just really a mean-spirited bill,” said Tim Eakins of United We Dream.

If it becomes law, the bill would tighten regulations for E-verify, the computer system that confirms whether someone is in the country legally and is cleared to work. It would also restrict what types of identification people can use and prohibit cities and counties from adopting policies that limit local police cooperation with immigration agents.

Some people say they’re afraid police will start stopping residents who appear to be immigrants.

“This would very much encourage police officers to question people who look undocumented,” Eakins said. “What we’ve seen in this state and other states – this would be an invitation to racial profiling.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police said its officers don’t ask about the immigration status of anyone they meet. They say they don’t have the authority to arrest if the only violation is being in the country illegally.

But some immigrants say they’re still afraid of being pulled over.

Jim Pendergraph, a retired Mecklenburg County Sheriff and former county commissioner who once worked for Homeland Security, said the bill is about public safety.

“Its always better for U.S. citizens if we know who is in this country and who potentially could cause us harm,” Pendergraph said. “We do not need that type of person in this country and they should be removed.”

Outside the Government Center, Jessica Contreras said, “We’re doing a fast because we’re tired.... At this point there’s been so many anti-immigration laws in the past few months, past few years.”

Contreras – who said she has been in the United States for 14 years and has a work permit that has to be renewed every two years – believes the bill is unfair.

“After giving much of our lives here, we’re now in a way being kicked out when all we want is an opportunity to be here.”