Schofield: Conservative war on immigrants continues in N.C.
In the days and weeks right after the 2012 election, a popular bit of political wisdom held that a sea change was underway in America's political relationship to immigrants – particularly the Latino community. "Things will be different," we were told. "Even conservatives now understand that it's politically foolish to alienate this fast-growing group of voters."
Unfortunately, while there may be some truth to this development at the national level, North Carolina conservatives seem not to have gotten the memo. As they have in so many other areas this year, state leaders are bucking the national trend and "doubling down" on their message of general hostility to immigrants – even those who have lived in the United States virtually all of their lives and who are, for all practical purposes, as "American" as anyone else.
The most notable recent example of this disturbing brand of backwards-looking politics, of course, is the infamous pink – sorry, fuchsia – stripe that the McCrory administration has decided to affix to the driver's licenses it will issue (as it is required to do by law) to young people granted the right to stay in the United States under the federal government's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The move will make North Carolina the only state in the union to use of such badge
As numerous commentators including have noted, the move smacks of other infamous examples from history in which authoritarian regimes have attempted to brand groups of people with derogatory badges indicating lesser status.
It also has no practical law enforcement purpose. Basically, the stripe is a way of telling thousands of young people that they are inferior and of inviting law enforcement officials and other people to whom the licenses will be shown to give the holders a suspicious once-over.
Sadly, the driver's license stripe is far from the only serving of anti-immigrant red meat dished up by North Carolina conservatives of late. Two weeks ago, fifteen right-wing House members signed onto a bill that would halt the issuance of any licenses to the DACA immigrants in whatever form they might take. For these legislators, even pink stripes are apparently not enough of a derogatory brand.
Meanwhile, another lawmaker has revived his effort from 2011 to affirmatively close the doors of the state's universities and community colleges. The bill would deny entrance to all "illegal aliens" – even those like the DACA young people who have lived here essentially all of their lives (and even those who somehow manage to pay out-of-state tuition). Good grief, even Rick Perry's Texas allows such de facto Americans to attend college at in-state tuition rates.
And while some may dismiss these efforts as the work products of back-benchers with little influence in the House leadership, it should be noted that it was just June when House Speaker Thom Tillis went so far as to have a friendly sit down with some representatives of the state's true lunatic, anti-immigrant fringe. The Governor's pink licenses only serve to reiterate the tacit blessing that Tillis issued at that time to such mean and nutty proposals.
Let's hope the Governor's modern scarlet letter proposal implodes of its own lame-brained and mean-spirited weight. If it's true, as some news reports indicate, that the Governor actually intends to brand not just the DACA kids, but all non-citizen immigrants with a special license, it's hard to imagine that his friends in the corporate board rooms will sit idly by as dozens of their executives who hail from overseas are subjected to the Hester Prynne treatment.
Maybe, just maybe, the state's conservative leaders will remember that it's the corporate oligarchs who pay for their electoral victories and return to their tried and true political strategy of keeping the attack dog fringe on a short leash and largely out of sight.
For now, however, it's Pat McCrory who's proudly taking this dangerous pet out for a walk around the block. It remains to be seen if he'll be able hold onto the leash.
Rob Schofield is the director of research and policy development at N.C. Policy Watch.