ALEC's fingerprints on harsh new NC immigration law

Protesters called on Gov. Pat McCrory to veto HB 318, an immigration measure that draws language from a model bill produced by a group with ties to the private immigrant detention industry. McCrory signed the measure into law last month. (Still from United We Dream video.)

A few years ago, as anti-immigrant sentiment roiled the country, Arizona enacted a draconian law, SB 1070, that expanded the role of local police in enforcing federal immigration policies, requiring them to determine someone's immigration status if there was "reasonable suspicion" they were not in the U.S. legally. Several states including Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina soon followed Arizona's lead with laws targeting immigrants.

At the end of October, North Carolina joined the ranks of states with harsh immigration policies when Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed into law HB 318. The new law expands requirements to verify employees' immigration status and invalidates consular IDs and other alternative forms of identification except in certain situations with law enforcement. It also bans local ordinances limiting police involvement in federal immigration enforcement — what are known as "sanctuary city" or "community trust" policies since they're intended to foster cooperation between local police and immigrants.

North Carolina's law was passed amidst a conservative backlash against community trust initiatives nationwide sparked by this summer's murder of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco by an undocumented immigrant who had been released by local police in accordance with city policies. The news of her death led to the introduction of federal legislation banning such policies, including a version that passed the U.S. House but was blocked last month in the Senate. Steinle's story was also referenced by North Carolina legislators during their discussion of the local ordinance ban, which was added to the bill in late September a few months after her death.

But language in North Carolina's sanctuary city ban predates Steinle's death: It comes from a model bill, titled "No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants," crafted in 2009 by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit that brings together corporate representatives and conservative state policymakers to craft model state legislation that member lawmakers then introduce in their home states. While ALEC is officially tax-exempt, its 501c3 status has been challenged by good-government advocates who say it operates more like a corporate lobby than a charitable nonprofit.

ALEC's corporate members have included private prison industry giants Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), based in Nashville, Tennessee, and the GEO Group of Boca Raton, Florida. In 2012, these two companies combined received over $440 million in contracts from the federal Bureau of Prisons to house "criminal aliens" and nearly $300 million that same year in contracts from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Both companies have come under scrutiny recently for the treatment of refugee mothers and children at the detention facilities they operate.

CCA was a member of ALEC's Public Safety and Elections Task Force that helped develop the "No Sanctuary Cities" language.

ALEC's model bill was based on draft legislation that eventually became Arizona's SB 1070. ALEC has since removed the legislation from its website, but a copy annotated by the Center for Media and Democracy can be seen here. During the 2011-2012 legislative session alone, versions of the "No Sanctuary Cities" model bill were introduced in 23 states, the most of any ALEC model bill that year. Alabama's harsh immigration law — now regarded as an unworkable policy failure — was based on ALEC's model.

ALEC's "No Sanctuary Cities" model bill includes a variety of strict immigration enforcement measures but begins with a ban on community trust policies (emphasis added):

No official or agency of this state or a county, city, town or other political subdivision of this state may adopt a policy that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.

North Carolina's HB 318 contains strikingly similar language:

No county [or city] may have in effect any policy, ordinance, or procedure that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.

Both the model bill and North Carolina's law also specify that the ban includes any limits on law enforcement officials' ability to gather information on immigration status or share that information with federal officials.

North Carolina's bill was sponsored by 11 Republican House members, three of whom have known ties to ALEC: primary sponsor George Cleveland of Onslow County, and co-sponsors Hugh Blackwell of Burke County and Dennis Riddell of Alamance County.

"We've become so multiculturalist that we don't have the common sense to see that we're ruining our country," Cleveland, a retired Marine and schoolteacher, said last month in the run-up to the law's passage. "Instead, we let cities pat (undocumented immigrants) on the back and here we are."

The North Carolina Justice Center has set up a hotline to help people with questions and concerns about the new law. According to Dani Moore, director of the group's Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, the hotline will help track the law's impact on immigrant families and collect information on how local governments are implementing it. The hotline has reportedly already received many calls.