On Thursday, I’ll stand in court to defend my decision to petition my governor through an act of civil disobedience. I took this step because I know why individuals and families leave their home countries to come to the United States. I know why they do it because my parents made that decision for my little sister and me before we were able to stand on our own two feet. They were looking for greater opportunity.
The only thing that makes my family different from the millions of undocumented immigrants who live, thrive, work and pay taxes to make North Carolina strong is that we lucked out in navigating a broken immigration system. It’s a system long designed to keep out people who aren’t “American” enough (read: white enough, wealthy enough, educated enough, quiet enough). It’s the same mechanism that has led us to believe that black lives don’t matter. But I know better.
The legislation passed by the General Assembly in the middle of the night at the close of the session prohibits certain government officials – with the exception of law enforcement officers in some cases – from accepting certain documents to determine a person’s actual identity or residency. Depending on how the law is interpreted, government officials including justices, judges, magistrates, clerks, law enforcement officers and potentially others won’t be able to accept consular or community-issued IDs to establish identity and residency. It’s an assault to the dignity of our community, a threat to public safety and outright inefficient.
Beyond that, the law, known by many as HB318, attacks local autonomy by prohibiting local communities from adopting “sanctuary” ordinances and invalidates those that currently exist. Where they existed, sanctuary policies were the first step in building a culture of trust and mutual respect among immigrant communities, law enforcement and local government agencies.
Overall, the new law penalizes some of the hardest working people I know for doing what we all strive for within that broken system. They provide for their families, drive their kids to school, start local businesses and go about their daily lives. It makes these day-to-day things harder for the people who have become my friends and family in North Carolina. After months of attempted dialogue with this legislature and governor that went unreturned, I felt I had no other choice but to take this kind of action.
As a Latina naturalized U.S. citizen, I refused to be tokenized by this governor and this legislature as one of the “good immigrants” who has done things “the right way.” There is no “right” way when the system itself is broken.
I risked arrest that day because this bill was designed to pit our communities against one another. It tells struggling North Carolinians that immigrants are to blame for a lack of good jobs and growth. But, again, we know better.
This so-called “Protect NC Workers Act” protects no one and attacks some of North Carolina’s most vulnerable: workers and immigrants. It’s a distraction from the indignities that workers suffer on the job every day. If the law’s architects truly cared to protect workers, they’d pursue cases of wage theft, raise the minimum wage, support the rights of workers to collectively bargain and think about the impact of this law on millions of immigrant workers, some of whom stood in front of the Executive Mansion for a month pleading to be heard before they literally took the street with me. I won’t stand for it. I risked arrest on Oct. 29 because I know North Carolina is better than this.
Ivanna Gonzalez lives in Durham.