RALEIGH, N.C.—The introduction of six bills in the state House and Senate dealing with Hispanics has brought to the forefront the debate over how to treat hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in North Carolina.
“It has been percolating up from the grass roots for some time,” said Andrew Taylor, a political scientist at N.C. State University. Illegal immigration, he said, “is becoming increasingly visible to people.”
The latest bill unleashed a ferocious response and drew national attention from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Introduced Tuesday, the bill would allow undocumented high school students to pay in-state tuition at North Carolina colleges and universities. They now pay the more expensive out-of-state rates.
Although it was launched with the support of former Gov. Jim Hunt in the interest of economic development, the bill lost several co-sponsors after people lambasted it on the radio and in e-mail messages.
One of the co-sponsors who hasn’t backed away, Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, said he received three e-mail messages in favor of the proposal and 15 against.
“Some of it’s pretty hostile stuff,” Faison said.
Other bills introduced this session would put the squeeze on illegal immigrants by denying them driver’s licenses and some public benefits, and force employers who hire illegal immigrants to cover some of their medical expenses if needed.
Although none of the bills has been voted on, they have the potential to usher in changes that would be felt by most of the state’s estimated 300,000 illegal immigrants.
“The issue is heating up,” said state Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, who co-sponsored two of the bills that would restrict illegal immigrants’ privileges.
Evidence of that is an e-mail message sent early this month to El Pueblo, the Hispanic advocacy group in Raleigh.
“Illegal Aliens have no Rights to anything in the U.S. other than deportation,” the message said, according to a copy forwarded by director Andrea Bazan-Manson. “TAKE YOUR MEXICAN FLAG AND STICK IT!!!.”
William Gheen, 36, president of the Raleigh-based Americans for Legal Immigration, said he plans to visit the North Carolina Legislature daily to persuade lawmakers to block the in-state tuition bill and support the other proposals that would deny driver’s licenses and some public benefits to illegal immigrants.
“If they don’t act on this issue,” Gheen said, “I’m convinced we’ll end up like California, where they’re closing hospitals and closing schools and their tax base is fleeing the state.”
The frustration appears to be broadening. A poll commissioned by The News & Observer in 2003 found that nearly three-fourths of 600 respondents said Mexican workers who had entered the country illegally but were otherwise abiding by U.S. laws should not be allowed to remain.