RALEIGH — Members of a House subcommittee agreed Wednesday that a package of immigration measures was too harsh in its proposal to deny bail in minor traffic and misdemeanor cases involving immigrants who are in the United States illegally.
They’ll wait a week to vote on provisions that would extend state driving privileges to tens of thousands of immigrants – while subjecting others to the risk of being jailed while police check their immigration status.
People here illegally could qualify for driving permits if they pass criminal background checks and meet other state requirements, under the legislation sponsored by Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican from Rowan County. Warren said the permits would make roads safer and free police to focus on criminals.
“When they stop the vehicle and you have one of these, they will know that the holder of that card has been fingerprinted, has had a criminal background check, and most likely is not a threat to society,” Warren told a House judiciary subcommittee.
Rep. Paul Stam, a Wake County Republican, said he had “a little bit of heartburn” about Warren’s proposal to deny bail in most cases for undocumented aliens on a wide range of offenses from violent felonies to traffic violations. With Warren’s blessing, the subcommittee relaxed the language in his bill so that bail would usually be denied only for the most serious charges against immigrants here unlawfully.
Another provision would authorize police to check the immigration status of anyone they stop or arrest – “where reasonable suspicion exists” that the person is in the United States unlawfully.
Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat from Cumberland County, asked Warren how police would decide when to do this.
“What possible criteria give rise to ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the person I’m stopping is an alien?” Glazier asked. “… I’m trying to figure out what, other than skin color or ethnicity or speech, what does that mean?”
Warren agreed that “identifying someone who may be here illegally – how do you do that? – is obviously very problematic.”
The judiciary subcommittee is expected to vote on the immigration bill next week. Members of the public will have a chance to comment when it is taken up by the House Finance Committee.
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