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North Carolina Governor Signs Bill Targeting 'Sanctuary Cities,' Undocumented Immigrants

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 28/10/2015 Elise Foley
ATHENA IMAGE © (Takaaki Iwabu/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images) ATHENA IMAGE

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed a bill into law on Wednesday that bans the state's cities from adopting sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants or accepting certain forms of identification.

He went on the road to sign it -- to Greensboro, a city where the council voted last week in disapproval of the bill.

"Today, North Carolina is standing up for the rule of law, which is central to North Carolina values and our country’s values," McCrory said in a statement. "Public safety officials must have the flexibility and tools to investigate crimes and sanctuary city policies deprive law enforcement of those tools."

The state House approved the immigration bill in September to deal with, in the words of Republican sponsor Rep. George Cleveland, "illegal aliens." The bill is part of a broader effort to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities, where municipalities limit cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. One of its provisions bans local governments from instructing police not to ask about immigration status or share information with ICE.

The bill also requires state and local governments to contract only with companies that check the immigration status of workers.

But it also targets undocumented immigrants directly, by preventing police and government agencies from accepting IDs from foreign governments, often the only valid identification they have.

Cleveland said allowing noncitizens to use local government or consular IDs would lead to "a sense of belonging here" and "making them part of your community," according to The News & Observer .

"They have broken our laws and you are saying that’s OK," he said, according to the newspaper.

Immigrant rights groups fear the bill may be broadly interpreted in a way that makes it next to impossible for undocumented immigrants to interact with the government -- even when they are legally allowed to do so.

Xochitl Hernandez, a 38-year-old who lives in Raleigh, is undocumented but has two U.S.-citizen children, both of whom she said have special needs. She said in a phone interview that she is worried that the law will make it difficult for her to do things like picking up her kids from school early if the school won't accept her foreign-issued identification.

"We deserve to live with dignity," she said, adding that she wants the governor "to stop attacking our community."

The city of Greensboro already changed its policies on identification because of the bill. The city previously accepted IDs issued by the nonprofit group FaithAction , which required people to provide proof of identity and residency. Law enforcement there said the program was helpful in encouraging undocumented immigrants to cooperate with police. They will no longer accept the IDs.

"I really think this legislation was targeted specifically at the city of Greensboro because of what we were doing with FaithAction and the ID card," Mayor Nancy Vaughan said last week, according to the News & Record .

The bill seemed to have support, though, from Sheriff BJ Barnes of Guilford County, which includes Greensboro. He hosted McCrory for the bill signing.

"When I go to other countries I go legally and adhere to the laws," he said in a statement. "Can we not, as the greatest nation in the world, expect others to do the same?"

Immigrant rights groups protested McCrory on Wednesday and plan to continue in coming days. But they will also move to making sure undocumented immigrants and local governments know what is required of them.

Ultimately, advocates said they want to see the law ended.

"In the medium to long term we're looking at repeal, what are our possibilities of mobilizing a lot of voters in the election to make sure that the people who are running for office understand how important an issue this is to our communities and they take that into account," said Angeline Echeverria, executive director of the Raleigh-based group El Pueblo.

Along with its immigration provisions, the bill also reinstates a three-month time limit on food stamps for unemployed able-bodied adults without dependents, a restriction returning to most states as the economy recovers from the Great Recession.

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