UPDATED: TUESDAY 9:45 PM
On the last Friday of September, the Rev. Paul Lininger stood in front of a small crowd of Latinos and Hispanics at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Burlington who waited to hear what he had to say.
Lininger welcomed them in heavily accented Spanish, an unwavering smile spread across his face, before he switched to English and invited an interpreter to help him convey the rest of the information.
Members of the Burlington Police Department — including Chief Jeffery Smythe — sat to the right, listening to the presentation about the FaithAction ID program and its purpose.
“This program is the result of a great deal of hard work, first and foremost, from the Burlington Police Department,” Lininger said. “The Burlington Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Smythe, came to me and asked if there was a possibility that we could put this program together as a means of being able to better serve our community here in Alamance County.”
For the next half hour, Lininger explained how the process for obtaining the ID works, how it can and cannot be used and who accepts it as a valid form of identification. He also emphasized that the police want to keep immigrants safe, not deport or hurt them.
FaithAction International House, a Greensboro-based nonprofit that helps new immigrants adjust to their new life, created the FaithAction ID program in 2013 after a series of dialogues with the Greensboro Police Department on how to build trust within immigrant and minority communities in Greensboro.
Smythe saw the distrust and fear of the police as two of the central problems among the Latino community in Burlington after starting his job as chief of police two and a half years ago. After meetings with FaithAction, other police departments in Alamance County and Father Paul all of last fall and into the spring, the Alamance County ID Task Force was formed. On May 26, the organization held its first ID drive at Blessed Sacrament.
“Our job is to make everyone feel safe,” he said. “We are here to extend a hand in friendship and trust, and build relationships so that when you have problems you can call us.
“Before, you might not have called the police because you weren’t able to show an identification card. But after today, you will have an identification card. And my hope is that that card will give you the confidence to call us when you need us.”
But the program Smythe has worked so hard to bring to Alamance County, and Burlington in particular, following votes over the last few days in the General Assembly, will eventually be considered illegal.
Protect North Carolina Workers Act
The bill, H.B. 318, tightens laws around E-Verify, an Internet-based system that employers use to determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the North Carolina or in the United States. Employers found a way around E-Verify, though, by employing fewer than 25 people, the current number a business can hire before needing to use E-Verify. The bill, also known as the Protect North Carolina Workers Act, slashes the number of hires down to five.
H.B. 318 nullifies any forms of identification that are not issued by a state or federal government. That includes the matricula consular, an ID the Mexican consulate in Raleigh has issued for 20 years to its citizens in North and South Carolina.
It includes municipal IDs like the one Charlotte has considered creating. It includes church- and nonprofit-administered ID cards.
It includes FaithAction’s ID program.
While the bill may have passed both houses, it still needs to be ratified and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory to be considered a law.
“Things can be legal — that doesn’t make them moral,” said Vanessa Bravo, assistant professor of communications who has conducted research within Hispanic migrant communities. “If this bill passes, it will be immoral. The [FaithAction] ID doesn’t hurt anyone.”
Forms of identification in North Carolina
Another bill, H.B. 328, would have made all of these types of IDs illegal as well, but it would have permitted undocumented immigrants in North Carolina to get a North Carolina driver’s license, valid up to a year. They would have to go through an intense background check and have insurance, but they would have had some form of identification. This bill was never voted on.
Suyapa Mejia said she has witnessed the effects not having a North Carolina driver’s license has had on undocumented men, women and children.
Mejia has worked 13 years for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) at North Carolina State University, promoting healthy eating and habits for Hispanic and Latino families in Orange County.
Mejia says she has witnessed the effects not having a North Carolina driver’s license has had on undocumented men, women and children.
“These women cannot get prescriptions,” she said. “They don’t give them the medicine because they don’t have a license.”
Mejia said most of the consequences of not having identification hurt children, who may have been born in the United States or migrated with one or both parents. Without a license or other form of ID, she said, fathers and mothers cannot take their children out of school if they are sick or need to go home early. When the state deports them for traffic violations, children are left behind and put in state custody.
La lucha por y contra la matricula
Rep. George Cleveland introduced H.B. 318 as a way to protect jobs in North Carolina. He said undocumented workers in North Carolina take jobs from unemployed citizens of the state and the United States.
While the consular ID has been in place for almost 20 years, Cleveland said the consulate has been issuing the matricula consular without needing substantial proof of identity.
Maria Monsalvo, public relations director for the Mexican consulate in Raleigh, disagreed.
“To get a matricula consular, you need proof of nationality, like a birth certificate or a passport with a photo,” she said. “They need to be original documents. If we have a problem with the documents, we call and ask.”
In May 2015, the consulate issued a statement reiterating to the General Assembly the importance of the matricula consular, its security features and what it does and does not allow.
The ID is issued regardless of immigration status, and can't be used to obtain a social security card or a driver’s license. Though the consulate does not allow criminals or those in a judicial process to receive the ID, Cleveland argued otherwise.
“They broke federal law by coming into this country illegally,” he said. “They are criminals.”
If the House approves the amendments
Smythe urged those present at the ID drive to get in touch with or have their friends contact Rep. Stephen Ross, one of Alamance County’s state representatives who approved the bill on the first vote. He could not be reached for comment.
Smythe explained that the bill -- once it becomes a law -- means he and his department cannot administer the program or accept the FaithAction ID as a form of identification. It also means the rest of the drives scheduled to be held this fall will need to be canceled.
“We’re changing lives with these people,” he said. “These folks are safer when they feel confident enough to call the police.”