Durham News: Opinion

NC Policy Watch: Governor’s refugee stance makes a bad situation worse

Kate Woomer-Deters
Kate Woomer-Deters

It’s been a month of terrible blows for immigrants in North Carolina and across the nation.

Here in North Carolina, a new law recently approved by the legislature and Gov. McCrory that purports to limit acceptable forms of identification has stirred fear in immigrants who are unsure whether they will be able to make a report to the police when their safety is threatened and has caused confusion among the agencies and local governments tasked with implementing it. Nationally, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Texas U.S. District Court’s injunction against the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) law, leaving as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants nationwide in limbo yet again.

Now, McCrory has chosen yet again to cave to anti-immigrant sentiment in his announcement that he wants the federal government to stop sending Syrian refugees to North Carolina. He also stated that his administration would be “reviewing refugee security information” from 33 additional “special interest” countries, and made reference to Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan as potential countries on that list. He complained that North Carolina does not have enough information from the federal government on how the refugees in our state have been “vetted,” and where they are residing.

Using the tragic events in France as a basis for denying refugees entrance into our state is misguided and wrong. First of all, the federal government, in conjunction with the United Nations and other international agencies, is already tasked with vetting refugees abroad. Refugees, by definition, are people who enter the United States already having been vetted and allowed to arrive legally within our borders. Under current law, refugees must prove to the U.S. government that they have faced persecution themselves and that they have not persecuted others. In other words, these are the very people fleeing the oppressive conditions and violence in their home countries that terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda have created.

Further, McCrory’s focus on Syria and 33 additional “special interest” countries is a worrisome indicator that Islamophobia is at play. While McCrory did not list the 33 additional countries in his remarks, he did note that Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan were included. Millions of innocent citizens in majority-Muslim countries struggle to live, work, go to school and raise their families each day while facing unimaginable threats of violence from within their own countries and from foreign actors. Conversely, people of many religions and ethnicities, including homegrown American terrorists, are inspired by misguided and hateful political rhetoric to inflict acts of terror and violence. To be effective in stopping acts of terror and violence, we must be able to distinguish true threats from innocent citizens who happen to share a nationality or religion with others who have committed acts of terror. This is true in local policing as well as in our policing of the world.

Lastly, and most ironically, McCrory’s other actions have actively prevented our state from identifying and “vetting” the immigrants who are in our midst. The governor was a plaintiff in the federal law suit against DAPA, which was upheld by the Fifth Circuit last week. McCrory, who wants to make sure the 59 Syrian refugees in our midst are “vetted,” has had a direct hand in denying that very chance to the tens of thousands of immigrants living in our state who could potentially qualify for DAPA.

The DAPA program, as proposed by President Obama a year ago, would have given those immigrants already living in North Carolina the chance to come forward, identify themselves, tell the federal government where they are living, and have their backgrounds “vetted,” in McCrory’s words. Further, North Carolina’s new law limiting acceptable forms of identification denies immigrants who want to present a valid, government-issued consular ID to law enforcement to identify themselves the chance to do so.

McCrory, in short, fears that the refugees who are lawfully present and whose background have already been checked by the federal government are not vetted enough. But for thousands of immigrants who want to step out of the shadows and voluntarily subject themselves to a background check or show a valid identification to law enforcement, he denies them that chance.

What this badly muddled situation cries out for, of course, is a comprehensive federal policy that allows immigrants who do not pose a threat to our nation to come, contribute to our culture and our economy. Congress has already established such a program for refugees, and we should follow that program and allow those refugees a chance at contributing to our country. Congress should now do so for the other hardworking immigrants in our country who pose not a threat to us, but an opportunity.

Unfortunately, Gov. McCrory’s recent actions and statements are not helping to advance the causes of justice or security.

Kate Woomer-Deters is a staff attorney at the N.C. Justice Center’s Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project.