Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 318, the Protect North Carolina Workers Act, into law Wednesday. The law expands the federally mandated E-Verify program, which North Carolina adopted in 2012 and is designed to ensure employers hire legal citizens.
The law also eliminates so-called “sanctuary cities,” or cities that have adopted policies designed not to prosecute undocumented people.
“No one should tie the hands of our police and our sheriffs and other law enforcement officers to enforce the laws that they have sworn to uphold,” McCrory said. “When these laws are not enforced, the process that makes North Carolina and this country great breaks down.”
But HB 318 leaves an entire industry untouched by E-Verify regulations — it contains built-in exemptions for the agricultural industry.
“(E-Verify) is a concession to powerful agricultural interests who would rather not have to check the immigration status of their employees,” said Clermont Ripley, staff attorney with the N.C. Justice Center, in an email.
By law, employees subject to E-Verify screening include “any individual who provides services or labor for an employer in this state for wages or other remuneration. The term does not include an individual whose term of employment is less than nine months in a calendar year,” according to N.C. Gen. Stat. 64, Art. 2.
The definition exempts most farm workers, because they work less than nine months in a calendar year, Ripley said — meaning they can work even without the legal authorization.
“To me, it’s the epitome of hypocrisy,” said UNC sophomore Chris Guevara, a vocal opponent of HB 318. “The farming industry is a $78 billion industry — I pulled that number from Pat McCrory himself — and of the farm workers that work here, 53 percent are undocumented.”
“(McCrory and the General Assembly) want to claim that undocumented people are over here stealing jobs and yet, in the one area they’re most prevalent in, they’re protected from the law,” he said.
Another UNC student activist, sophomore Kristen Gardner, said she believes HB 318 demonstrates the state’s willingness to protect a productive industry at the cost of sacrificing workers’ rights to fair wages and working conditions, among other things.
“We recognize the economic benefit of low-cost labor from immigrants, especially in the agricultural sector for our state — and that’s why we’re passing bills to protect that sector, but will not allow the option for immigrants to receive other jobs where they could receive better wages and protection of rights,” she said.
Earlier versions of the law — though not ratified — included language explicitly exempting farm workers from E-Verify screening.
According to the April draft, the term employee “does not include a farm worker, an independent contractor or an individual who provides domestic services in a private home that is sporadic, irregular or intermittent.”
The law also limits the types of identification accepted by law enforcement, authorizing law enforcement officials to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if someone is unable to present a valid form of identification.
It will invalidate a form of identification known as the the matricula consular, issued by a noncitizen’s consulate, said Jennie Belle, program associate at the N.C. Council of Churches. The measure will not only change the relationship between undocumented people and local law enforcement, but also increase the burden on the latter, she said.
Guevara said where undocumented people could previously use the consular to purchase cars and health insurance, to fill prescriptions and as a form of identity in traffic violations, they are now faced with the threat of deportation.
He said this opens undocumented workers up to more abuse from employers, especially since the paths to citizenship are costly and time-consuming.
Such abuse is what Gardner hopes to focus future opposition to HB 318 on.
She organized a protest in front of the governor’s mansion Thursday — though it took place after the bill was signed into law, she said she is hopeful future action will have a positive impact.
“Pat McCrory isn’t going to care about 30 students at UNC having a protest,” she said. “Now, our focus is, ‘Okay, now that this bill is going to pass, what can we do to ensure that people who will be affected by it have the support that they need?’”