Editorial: Immigration reform — local issue, federal control

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 2, 2007

After a year studying immigration’s impact in the Charlotte region, a volunteer commission has arrived at a list of recommendations that offer some good guidance for local, state and federal officials as they debate policies designed to stem illegal entry to the country while recognizing the importance of legal immigrants to the labor force.

The 28-member group, the Mayor’s Immigration Study Commission, originated at the suggestion of Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, and it looked specifically at the Charlotte region in gauging immigration’s impact. But its final report (available at www.charmeck.org/Departments/Mayor/ImmigrationStudy) is obviously designed for a broader audience. It notes that the immigration buck ultimately stops at the federal level, and some of its 26 recommendations would require action by Congress or the expansion of existing federal agencies. Others could be implemented at the local level — and, indeed, reflect action already being taken in some cities.

Grouped according to general areas such as public safety and economic development, several of the recommendations focus on reducing the presence of illegal immigrants, especially those who commit serious crimes, while others urge making it easier for immigrants to obtain visas and work permits that enable them to join the workforce legally. Among the recommendations:

* Support development of an accurate employment eligibility verification program that encourages businesses to participate.

* Ensure that all contracts and projects of the city, county and state that utilize taxpayer funds do not employ illegal immigrants. All contracts and construction projects should include a provision that employers will take specific steps to ensure the legal status of the workforce.

* Support the full prosecution of illegal immigrants who commit local and state crimes, without the possibility of deportation, so the criminals will serve time for their crime prior to any deportation proceedings.

* Require police departments to track gang members, particularly those that are foreign born, and the number of members that are deported for criminal activity. Support federal legislation to make gang membership a deportable offense.

* Develop and clarify fire and safety codes of local governments regarding the number of people allowed to reside in one dwelling, to address personal and fire safety concerns within the community.

* Support the request for an Immigration Court in Charlotte. Although North Carolina is estimated to have the nation’s eighth-largest population of illegal immigrants, it currently falls under the jurisdiction of the Immigration Court in Atlanta.

Frustrated by federal inaction on immigration issues, local governments have taken actions ranging from making English their official language (as Landis did last year) to cracking down on the businesses that hire undocumented workers and the landlords who take them on as tenants. While the study acknowledges that municipalities and counties can have an impact, it also points to the imperative need for action at higher levels.