Youths protest new North Carolina law that attacks immigrants

WW photo: L.T. PhamRaleigh, N.C. — Youths, including many college and high school students, came out to say “no” to House Bill 318 in front of the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh, N.C., on Oct. 14. They refused to stay quiet as the North Carolina General Assembly heightens its attacks on undocumented Latino/a immigrant workers and their families.

The bill is ironically titled the “Protect North Carolina Workers Act.” The politicians who drafted this bill are pushing the lie that immigrant workers are a threat to other working-class people. In reality, immigrants are not stealing jobs; the bosses are stealing labor. It is the bosses and politicians who underpay, make it illegal to unionize and draft racist, anti-worker bills that pose a threat to all workers.

The proposed new law would make North Carolina an even more dangerous state for immigrants and could be a model for racist legislation in other states. HB 318 passed the legislature on Sept. 29 and is now sitting on Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk. His decision is either to listen to the demands of the youth and immigrant communities or to side with the anti-worker, anti-immigrant and racist interests of the extreme right, and sign the bill into law.

The bill has several disparate features unified only as attacks on workers and immigrants. One critical aspect prohibits law enforcement or government agencies from accepting consular documents or as valid forms of identification or proof of residency.  Another prohibits cities or counties from adopting “sanctuary” policies. Such policies allow local governments to determine the extent to which local law enforcement collaborates with federal immigration agencies and procedures.

A third anti-immigrant policy in the law requires that all contractors doing business with the government use the E-verify system to prove their employees are documented to work. E-Verify is a federal Internet system that targets undocumented immigrants. Though criticized as inaccurate, E-verify gives power to employers to threaten workers with deportation by alerting local law enforcement and U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement when an undocumented person cannot provide approved identification.

Jorge Ramos from the El Pueblo Youth Council made it clear to Gov. McCrory that immigrants “are not monsters hiding under your bed!” and that young people “cannot wait for politicians to have a change of heart. We must force them to stop this bill.”

‘We can beat this’

Many impassioned young people, community members, parents and families who would be impacted by HB 318 expressed that this was a fight they want to take on and will win. Laura Aldana, another youth member of El Pueblo Youth Council, told the crowd, “Stay strong my people! We can beat this!”

Other Black and Brown youth expressed solidarity with the undocumented community. They said, “Let’s keep working-class people here!” They also drew direct connections between the criminalization of immigrants and the racist attacks against all people of color at the workplace, in schools and in the streets.

The only aspect of the law not solely targeting immigrants sets a major limit on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamp program. It prohibits the state from extending benefits by seeking waivers from federal time limits on how long someone can receive the benefit. Enacting this bill would cut thousands of North Carolina workers from SNAP.

This bill is the latest effort to divide working and oppressed people by relying on racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric to suppress workers who have been on the frontlines for better working conditions, $15 an hour and the right to unionize.

Organizations and activists on the ground have been organizing daily actions since the bill hit the governor’s desk on Sept. 30. Some of those organizations include the Comité Popular Somos Raleigh, El Pueblo, El Centro Hispano and Inmigrantes Unidos. Nearly 100 organizations have added their names to an organizational and agency sign-on letter in opposition to HB 318. The organizations plan on demonstrating at the Governor’s Mansion until the bill is vetoed. Organizers are mobilizing workers to come out again later this week to talk about the impact of HB 318 on the entire working class.