RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Some North Carolina lawmakers are trying to remove an exemption in an immigration law passed last year that allows law enforcement to use identification cards from local government or nonprofit organizations to determine a person’s identity or residency.
The House Regulatory Reform Committee sent the bill to the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday with opposition from policymakers and law enforcement groups who say the exemption allows officers to protect communities with diverse populations.
A law passed last September prohibits public officials from using the cards in most cases, but allows law enforcement to use them when individuals have no other documentation.
“Law enforcement continue to have the constitutional responsibility for ensuring that an entire community is safe. And it’s very hard to do that when you have people you cannot identify,” said Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange.
Republican Rep. George Cleveland of Onslow, one of the sponsors of the bill to remove the exemption, said what was meant to be a rare circumstance has instead become the norm as local nonprofits continue to host ID drives encouraging people to obtain the cards.
Rep. Debra Conrad, R-Forsyth, said the cards carry no validity and that she believes they encourage more people with unlawful status to come to the state.
“I think it’s imperative that we clamp down on these IDs; they’re not the only organization that hands these out,” Conrad said. “We just can’t have random organizations all over North Carolina handing out IDs illegal immigrants take as valid access to services,” she said.
Some lawmakers expressed concern that the bill to remove the exemption was not drafted with feedback from police chiefs or sheriff’s departments.
Doug Miskew of the North Carolina Sheriffs Association opposed the bill in committee. Miskew said the cards are not a free pass; they simply allow officers to communicate with individuals who do not have other identifying documents.
An ID program was created more than three years ago by Greensboro advocacy organization FaithAction International House.
The Rev. David Fraccaro of FaithAction said immigrants in the country illegally are often afraid to call the police when crimes occur. They fear they will be arrested instead of the criminals, just because they lack the proper ID. FaithAction hosts ID drives at churches and schools to encourage people to create positive interactions with law enforcement.
“This is not about an immigration issue,” Fraccaro said in a phone interview. “This is about us being able to positively identify people. This is about gaining trust.”
The bill also would expand the threshold for businesses required to use the E-Verify program. Businesses with five or more employees would need to use the federal authorization program that determines the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States.