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After Gov. McCrory signed HB 318 into law in Greensboro in late October his staff found themselves performing damage control over the governor’s comments about serious crime committed by undocumented immigrants.

An undated letter from the governor’s community and constituent affairs office deflects responsibility for creating a climate of fear, while seeming to take a subtle shot at the news media.

“We understand there is much fear and concern by the Latino community in regards to the Protect North Carolina Workers Act,” the letter reads. “We believe it is essential that everyone clearly understand the bill, rather than through speculation and rumor. We have decided we would provide actual facts about that bill that other outlets may be misinterpreting and creating an atmosphere of fear to our immigrant communities.”

Hernando Ramirez-Santos, the executive editor of Que Pasa, said in his opinion the primary purpose of the law is “to create a bigger negative environment for the undocumented community.” He noted that undocumented people make up about a third of the overall Latino population in North Carolina.

“There are more than 300,000 undocumented residents in North Carolina, but there are almost 900,000 Hispanics,” he said. “A lot of this community has family and close friends, relatives that are undocumented. To have that environment and the policies that Gov. McCrory promotes be so negative to Hispanics and the immigrant community, it’s just absurd to create that environment. To fuel that sentiment with the anti-immigrant community and the white community that is so conservative is sad.”

The governor’s clarification letter noted that the law does not require local law enforcement to collect information on an undocumented person and that law enforcement officials may still accept community IDs if the individual has no other valid identification documents. But McCrory stuck to his guns on his preference for passports. The letter states that while matricula consular cards and ID created by local nonprofits might be more convenient, the validity of a passport is “incomparable.”

That misses an important point, Ramirez-Santos said.

“The problem with a passport is it says who you are, but it doesn’t say where you live,” he said. “With that in mind, when a police officer stops you, they will see who you are but not where you live. In the mind of the authorities, [the passport] says you are an undocumented person. Not all law enforcement know that they are not immigration authorities. ‘I don’t know who you are, so I will take you to jail.’ Once you are in jail, you can be checked; it will review with ICE if you are undocumented or documented. Of course, it will show you are undocumented.”

Relying in part on the guidance from the governor’s office, local law enforcement agencies around the Piedmont region have continued to cooperate with FaithAction to roll out the ID program.

“It may make the difference between someone getting a citation and someone having to go to jail,” Lonnie Albright, the police attorney for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, told Triad City Beat earlier this month. Qué Pasa has played an active role in publicizing the ID drives and covering them as they take place in Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Asheboro. A Jan. 9 ID drive in Winston-Salem took place in a vacant storefront next door to Qué Pasa’s statewide headquarters on Waughtown Street. The shopping center that houses Qué Pasa and the site of the facility used for the ID drive is owned by the newspaper’s publisher, Jose Isasi.

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“We thought we were going to get 200 people because it was Friday and it was very cold; people were working on Friday,” Ramirez-Santos said. “More than 700 people showed up. It was incredible. Inside the shopping center, all the way to Waughtown Street, it was a huge line maybe seven blocks long. It was amazing that people stayed in the line all day waiting to get to the room.”

FaithAction also signed up 375 people in Greensboro in December, and the agency has another drive scheduled for Friday at the Mullin Life Center of First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro. Recent meetings in Asheboro have drawn an enthusiastic response from both the police and immigrants.

The benefits of the ID to people in the immigrant community go far beyond the practicalities of navigating daily life, Ramirez-Santos said.

“Even though they know the ID has limited use, they say it’s better to have this ID than nothing,” he said. “It’s a matter of belonging. ‘I am part of this town. I live here.’ It’s a state of mind.”

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