RALEIGH — A Raleigh nonprofit launched a statewide billboard campaign Tuesday calling for North Carolina to resist negative stereotypes and welcome its foreign newcomers, an appeal for tolerance that comes as the legislature mulls tougher laws aimed at illegal immigrants.
Flanked by religious leaders of several faiths, Uniting NC unveiled a sample of its new signs on New Bern Avenue in east Raleigh - a placard that carries the slogan "Immigrants Make Us Stronger."
"I believe our state should be proud that people from all over the world want to live here," said the Rev. Diane Faires of St. Paul's Christian Church in Raleigh.
Between now and the end of January, billboards will appear in Raleigh, Durham, Charlotte, Asheville, Mebane and Goldsboro - paid for with $3,500 in donations from more than 250 supporters.
The group pointed to Alabama, where immigration laws are considered the toughest nationwide, as a model to avoid.
Last month, Mercedes-Benz executive Detlev Hager was arrested in Tuscaloosa, home of the car manufacturer's first U.S. plant, when he could produce only a German ID card during a traffic stop.
"In times like these, the temptation for many people is to demonize immigrants," said Kristin Collins, Uniting NC director.
Alabama this year enacted a law banning illegal immigrants from attending public colleges, prohibiting employers from hiring them and voiding all contracts made with them. Some of those provisions are under statewide review.
The U.S. Supreme Court will review Arizona's immigration law, which requires that law enforcement officers check the status of anyone they stop or arrest if there is reason to suspect the person is illegal.
Backlash in this state
Republicans in the N.C. legislature are pushing for new laws to identify illegal immigrants and limit their use of public services. Rep. Bert Jones, a Rockingham County Republican, said North Carolina could become a magnet for illegal immigrants as other states tighten their laws.
Ron Woodard, executive director of N.C. Listen, dismissed the idea that the state and the nation aren't welcoming toward lawful immigrants. Those who come illegally drive down working wages, he said.
"The truth be told, Uniting NC is pretending illegal immigration doesn't matter," he said. "We have 20 million Americans who either can't find a job or can't find a full-time job. ... We don't have money to take care of our own poor."
At Tuesday's news conference, Rabbi Eric Solomon of Raleigh's Beth Meyer Synagogue said North Carolina should welcome immigrants first and then determine their legal status.
"All of my grandparents were immigrants ... they would tell me how this is the most wonderful country in the world," he said. "Sadly, they would also tell me that it was hard to be accepted."
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