RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Republican lawmakers are attempting to rein in local governments with threats to deny school and roads funding if they do not comply with immigration laws passed last year.
A Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday approved a bill to withhold state dollars from cities or counties that accept identification cards from nonprofit organizations or establish "sanctuary policies" limiting enforcement of federal immigration law.
"I think everybody will agree that sometimes it's the threat of potential for penalty or loss of something that really gets people's attention," said Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, who is guiding the bill through the Senate.
North Carolina banned the identification cards last year with a narrow exemption for law enforcement who said the cards allow officers to establish a person's identity or residency when individuals have no other documentation.
A bill stripping that exemption was proposed earlier this month despite objections from the North Carolina Sheriffs Association.
Republican Rep. George Cleveland of Onslow County, who has led the charge on tougher immigration policies, 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.
On Tuesday a new version of the bill knocking down the exemption, fortified with financial penalties for entities that do not comply with any of the state's immigration laws, was added to an unrelated bill on jury duty. The bill would craft a form for people to report to the attorney general a city, county or law enforcement agency they believe is out of compliance with immigration policies, including the state's ban on sanctuary city policies.
Sanderson said the aim is to put an immediate halt to the cards' production and force cities to consult state officials about local immigration policies.
"I'm just as compassionate as anyone else about why these folks want to come to North Carolina, why they find North Carolina attractive," Sanderson said. "But we still have to maintain some control. That's the whole thrust of this."
Scott Mooneyham, director of public affairs for the N.C. League of Municipalities, said there have been no examples of cities that have fallen out of compliance with the law. Mooneyham said tying infrastructure and education funding to a completely unrelated law "appears to be unprecedented" and would "penalize local taxpayers in ways that have nothing to do with the issue."
Sanderson said that if an entity is found noncompliant, funding for the following year will be withheld and dispersed to other recipients, creating an accountability system among the entities.
The ID program was created more than three years ago by Greensboro advocacy organization FaithAction International House.
The Rev. David Fraccaro of FaithAction said immigrants with no lawful status 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 promote positive interactions with law enforcement.
Fraccaro said he is concerned about the ways the legislation is evolving in the GOP-dominated General Assembly.
"There's a reason they're trying to ram these through with no transparency or time for debate or people to educate themselves," Fraccaro said. "I think it's because they know there's a significant amount of support from law enforcement, from faith leaders, from mayor's offices and cities in other parts of the country who all recognize that this program creates safer and more inclusive united communities. And I think they're panicking because they're afraid, probably on a personal level, of demographic shifts happening in our community."
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Congress has introduced similar legislation that would terminate federal funding for states and localities that restrict communication with the Immigration and Naturalization Service or other government entity regarding an individual's citizenship or immigration status.
North Carolina was one of the first states to prohibit sanctuary policies last year. At least 18 states considered legislation in 2016 prohibiting sanctuary policies or noncompliance with immigration detainers.
The NCSL could not immediately provide information about specific penalties states have created if local governments violate state immigration laws.
The bill now heads to a Senate Appropriations committee.