By Ricky Leung, NC Policy Watch

In response to being equated with criminals like they were drug dealers, members of the advocacy group NC DREAM Team interrupted Rep. George Cleveland (R-Onslow) during a legislative committee panel meeting with business leaders, shouting "I am undocumented, unafraid and unashamed!" Three members were arrested while some onlookers shouted "Go home!"

Lawmakers met with business leaders from construction, agriculture and other industries yesterday on what North Carolina can do in terms of immigration issues surrounding unauthorized workers in the state. (See below for the video of the full session and a clip of the protesters' arrests.)

Toeing the line with compliance with federal laws on immigration and the need for workers in their respective fields, many of the business leaders saw the benefits of E-Verify, which was mandated with the passage of "Employers and Local Government Must Use E-Verify" Act H.B. 36 last year (to be fully implemented by 2013 for employers statewide of 25 or more workers).

Addressing lawmakers' question on what would be some negative effects of taking further measures toward immigration-related policies for businesses, Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO of ImmigrationWorks USA (a national group working to advance immigration reform as it affects businesses and workers), cites "attrition through enforcement." While supportive of measures like E-Verify, Jacoby says extreme enforcement can lead to harmful effects for the state economy. She cites examples from Alabama, where extreme enforcement led to an exodus of 80,000 documented and undocumented immigrants, and Georgia, where $75 million worth of crops rotted in the fields due to lack of workers.

Jacoby says that N.C. in on the "right path" with E-Verify and should wait until it is fully implemented in 2013 before taking additional measures. She did, however, point to Utah, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, California and Vermont as examples of states that have looked at potential guest worker and worker permit programs to address issues of unauthorized workers. Jacoby also notes that while states cannot implement such programs without federal approval such measures can be a way to let the federal government know their desire to create a legal avenue for a source of workers and the need to fix a currently broken immigration system.

While business leaders took a middle-of-the-way approach to responding to lawmakers, the questions the committee asked were often tinged with anti-immigrant sentiments and peppered with comments that dismiss figures Jacoby cited from a number of consistent studies. Rep. Cleveland went as far as to suggest that increased illegal immigration led to high levels of drug and gun crime; see the full length video of the session below at around the 01:21:00 mark for his for initial comment, further expanded at around 01:33:00. (In Arizona, crime rates actually fell during the period 2008-2009, the same period when there was a notion that higher illegal immigration led to higher crime rates in that state.)

The arrests:



The full session: