The NCLBC shall exercise unified political power for the betterment of people of color and consequently, all North Carolinians.

Calls for immigration reform get louder as potential government shutdown nears

December 6th, 2017

— Advocates for young undocumented immigrants say a program that protects them is rapidly running out of time, and they staged events nationwide Wednesday calling for immigration reform.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., congressional Democrats also are demanding immigration reform before passing a spending bill, and President Donald Trump said that stance could force the federal government to shut down on Saturday.

“Overall immigration policy needs to be solved at the federal level. The reason we’re even dealing with it at the state level is because the federal government under both parties has failed to find a solution,” said state Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, who attended a roundtable Wednesday on technology workers and immigration reform.

Immigrants make up nearly 8 percent of North Carolina’s population, and the state is home to about 27,000 people in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The program, which Trump ended in September, allows young adults who came to the U.S. illegally as children to work and go to school without fear of deportation.

If Congress doesn’t act before members leave Washington for the holidays, changes won’t take effect before DACA permits begin to expire in March, according to immigrant advocates.

“Our futures are basically on the line. Like, our whole lives are on the line,” DACA participant Miriam Amado said. “If you try to put that in perspective and you try to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, how would you feel?”

Amado, 20, a senior at the University of Mount Olive, came to the U.S. when she was 2. She is looking forward to graduating in May with a degree in business administration and getting her insurance license by the end of next year, but she said she doesn’t know what will happen to her without DACA.

“I would lose my work status. I would lose my (driver’s) license. I couldn’t drive safely. I wouldn’t be safe anymore,” she said, calling for a more permanent program that would provide a pathway to citizenship.

DACA immigrants are just one part of the immigration debate. Immigrant farm workers and skilled workers are also vital to North Carolina’s economy.

North Carolina agriculture relies on immigrant labor, but Laurie Barnhart, legislative director for the North Carolina State Grange, said it’s getting harder to find workers.

“Every farmer I talk with, the labor shortage is always always the problem. It’s not the weather, it’s not the hurricane, it’s the shortage of labor,” Barnhart said. “Without improvements to our broken guest worker program, we will continue to see small farms and fisheries going out of business.”

The tech sector in the Triangle similarly relies on immigrants, but not only are there not enough visas to meet demand, but some existing visas aren’t being renewed.

“Our North Carolina economy does not work without immigrants,” Martin said.

State Rep. David Lewis, R-Harnett, said immigrants are just workers – about 48,000 are entrepreneurs who have started small businesses in North Carolina.

“Often times, we think about immigrants as the workers. Understand that many of them are the employers. Many of them are providing the jobs. They are truly providing the economic engine,” Lewis said. “I believe that it is vitally important that we take the steps necessary to enforce the (immigration) laws on the books that work, and I believe that it is vitally important that Congress fixes the laws that need to be fixed so that we can keep the pipeline open.”

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