The recent protest of pro-immigrant advocates at Gov. Pat McCrory’s Executive Mansion seemed to be business as usual in the Tar Heel state, where Republican politicians have united behind an agenda of immigration control and enforcement. Most recently, they have targeted so-called “sanctuary cities” with their predominantly Latino immigrant populations as well as Syrian refugee resettlement efforts.
Yet amid McCrory’s insistence that reporters use the term “illegal” rather than “undocumented” and Latino protesters’ signs asking him to “Stop the Hate,” it is easy to forget that McCrory and Latinos used to rally together. During the first decade of his mayoral term in Charlotte, McCrory himself and his allies in the business community encouraged, praised and benefited from Latino immigration to North Carolina.
A welcome labor pool
Though the governor claims he has always supported legal immigration but not illegal, Charlotte’s economy thrived and his career benefited from policies that welcomed immigrant labor whatever its status. Under McCrory’s watch, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office instituted a policy to check the immigration status of anyone arrested for any reason, but the Charlotte Police Department declined to do so, preferring to retain the trust of the immigrant community – in other words, the very type of “sanctuary city” policy McCrory has just outlawed. The welcome mat was out, the immigrants came with or without papers, and the city flourished economically.
When McCrory falsely asserted in 2008 that 50 percent of babies born at Carolinas Medical Center were Latino and that 20 percent of Mecklenburg County jails’ inmates were undocumented immigrants, Charlotte’s Spanish-language newspaper, La Noticia, lamented the betrayal of its community’s onetime ally. “We the Latinos have changed in the eyes of McCrory,” wrote the paper’s editors. “In the 1990s we were a hard-working community, with family values, needed to build downtown Charlotte. Now that it has all been built, he is using us for a different purpose”: to court voters from the Republican Party’s anti-immigrant wing.
Cities like Durham, Chapel Hill and McCrory’s onetime home of Charlotte have taken responsibility for their dependence on Latino labor through their commitments to the public safety of all their residents regardless of immigration status. President Obama has done the same through his executive actions to protect undocumented immigrants with roots in the United States from deportation.
When a reporter asked McCrory recently whether he had any empathy for immigrant families, the governor insisted, “The people who are bringing their kids to our country have to be thinking of these ramifications.” But it is McCrory who failed to think of the ramifications when he built his career on the economic success of an immigrant-dependent metropolis. It’s time for the governor, whose economic leadership went hand-in-hand with his welcoming attitude toward Charlotte’s Latino workforce, to stop punishing the very same people who answered his call.
Julie M. Weise is assistant professor of history at the University of Oregon and author of “Corazón de Dixie: Mexicanos in the U.S. South since 1910.”