NC House immigration bill passes first committee

  • Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 1:49 p.m.
    UPDATED: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 4:43 p.m.

RALEIGH (AP) — A bill granting driving privileges to those in the country illegally and authorizing Arizona-style detainment measures passed its first North Carolina legislative committee test Wednesday.

A House judiciary committee approved the Republican bill 9-3 with some Democratic support. The bill would require residents in the country illegally to pursue a restricted driver’s license and allow police to detain people suspected of lacking documentation for up to 24 hours to verify their legal status.


Harry Warren, R-Rowan and the bill’s lead sponsor, has argued those measures and other law enforcement provisions will help promote safety while bringing the state’s community of immigrants who lack documentation out of the shadows. Five other states already issue some form of driver’s permit to those who don’t have permission to be in the U.S., and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber looked poised to join them Wednesday with an expected bill signing to coincide with a May Day rally.

Immigration reform advocates in North Carolina have praised the portion of the bill allowing for restricted driver’s licenses that couldn’t be used as official identification, but they’ve expressed concern over detainment and other measures. Still, some have acknowledged those measures could be the price they’ll have to pay, and the U.S. Supreme Court already upheld a similar detainment provision in Arizona.

An estimated 325,000 immigrants in the country without permission lived in North Carolina as of 2010, up from 210,000 a decade earlier.

The latest version of the bill presented to lawmakers Wednesday softens some of the bill’s other law enforcement measures. Restrictions on bond release would no longer apply to minor traffic violations and drug possession. Democrats successfully pushed for the inclusion of simple assault, disturbing the peace, public drunkenness and other minor crimes. Bill sponsors already changed the language to allow those living in the country illegally to post secured bond when charged with a felony or more serious misdemeanor.

An older provision forcing those without documentation to pay for their incarceration costs after arrest has been modified to apply only in cases resulting in a conviction. Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, called for the complete removal of that section, noting studies from correctional organizations that showed similar laws in other states have cost more than they were worth, but his amendment failed.

Glazier also took issue with the detainment measure. Under the law, police officers couldn’t try to verify legal status if the person stopped provides ID, a restricted driver’s permit or other forms of identification. But Glazier, who later voted against the bill, argued the law needs distinctions between routine stops and actual arrests, suggesting bill sponsors limit detainment in those cases to two hours.

“Courts haven’t allowed that stop to be more than several hours,” he said. “It is by definition unconstitutionally prolonged.”

Glazier withdrew his amendment after Warren agreed to try to compromise at a later point, but he maintained that the detainment measure will lead to challenges of the law’s application because it’s unenforceable without depending on discrimination.

Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, unsuccessfully pushed to remove detainment entirely from the law.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said controversial legislation takes compromise, and without that section of the law supporters risk losing Republican votes.

“This is the honey that gets some people to vote for it who wouldn’t vote for it otherwise,” he said.

The bill now heads to the Finance Committee.

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