GIF with a heart, with the words on top "Immigrants are essential"

Anti-immigrant policies in North Carolina hurt us all

Most of us in NC believe that everyone should be able to live a life of dignity and safety.

But some politicians in Raleigh are pushing to block immigrants from using identification that would support full participation in communities and seeking to punish local governments that refuse to do the work of federal immigration enforcement. These lawmakers are attempting to divide us instead of creating the conditions in which we all can thrive through inclusive, equitable policies that ensure each of us can reach our full potential.

A new report released by the Immigration Research Institute provides a picture of the work that immigrants contribute to building wealth in our state.

  • Immigrants make an outsized economic contribution to the state: Immigrants make up approximately 8 percent of our state’s population; about 840,585 immigrants live in North Carolina. Not only are immigrants a crucial part of our communities socially and culturally, but they also make up 11 percent of the NC economic output, or GDP. This means that immigrants contribute $59.6 billion to our economy. This can be attributed to the fact that immigrants make up 11 percent of the working-age population, and 11 percent of the work force.
  • Immigrants build wealth from their essential work that is too often underpaid: Low-wage jobs are defined as earning less than two-thirds of the statewide median, which in North Carolina is $31,000. Earning two-thirds of the median is often considered poverty. Some 34 percent of immigrants — documented and undocumented — work low-wage jobs, compared to 24 percent of US-born workers. Some reasons that this difference exists could be language barrier, college access, workplace discrimination, or immigration status. These low-wage jobs are usually jobs that we consider to be essential, with many being service or production jobs.

We must demand that our leaders recognize that contributions of immigrants to our communities and economy are blocked when policies lead to fear and intimidation.

House Bill 10 (SB 50)  — “Require Sheriffs to Cooperate with ICE —requires sheriffs in North Carolina to comply with ICE agents and report citizenship information about incarcerated individuals. This bill also overrides the authority that sheriffs have to set their relationship with ICE and to align with the priorities that the people of their community have voted for them to uphold. With HB 10, they would have no say in the matter.

When people don’t feel safe in their communities, it creates barriers to participation in the community and labor market. Travel to and from work becomes more difficult, engaging with law enforcement to keep our communities safe becomes inconceivable, and being part of a community where all of our children can thrive is challenged.

In combination with proposals like House Bill 167 that would limit the use of community identification — a key tool for people to confirm who they are and support deeper civic engagement — this legislation will block our state from creating the conditions for everyone to thrive.

We must come together and demand that our policymakers instead work to make connections for immigrants — no matter where they come from or their immigration status — to common-sense, community-enhancing policies that allow them to continue to contribute and live well..

One such common-sense policy is to ensure that students can continue their education at post-secondary institutions in North Carolina without an insurmountable cost barrier. In so doing, North Carolina can address the lower share of immigrants in middle-wage jobs evidenced in the Immigration Research Institute report.

Senate Bill 706 would allow immigrants without documentation but who have attended North Carolina primary schooling to receive in-state tuition in NC. One of the biggest barriers to accessing post-secondary education for anyone is the substantial price tag that it comes with. In NC, the average student will be charged tuition and fees of $3,528 for in-state students and $17,485 for out-of-state students.

The difference in cost forces some students to find other, less accessible ways to finance their college educations or miss out on college altogether. In turn, this makes it even more difficult for those affected to break into higher-paying jobs and limits the career paths available to undocumented individuals in our state.

This new report demonstrates that immigrants show up for North Carolina in a lot of ways – it’s time for us show up for immigrants and come together to reject this division that some lawmakers are trying to sow and demand inclusive, equitable policies that mean each of us can live a life of dignity and safety.

Our state can truly thrive only if we ensure that any person, regardless of where they come from, has the opportunity to thrive and fulfill their dreams for a better life.