Last week, while the state government remained engulfed in the dumpster fire known as HB 2, four Republican representatives quietly filed a bill to throw even more obstacles at refugees who want to resettle in North Carolina and the localities that want to take them in, while making it much easier for cities and counties to reject them.
HB 1086, the "Refugee Resettlement Act," is cosponsored by House Majority Leader Mike Hager and Representatives Chris Whitmire, John Torbett, and George Cleveland. It would allow local governments to request a "moratorium" on new refugees by passing a simple resolution stating that resettling refugees into their area would be bad. That request would then be forwarded to the North Carolina Refugee Assistance Program, which in turn would pass it to the feds.
Lifting such a moratorium or asking to settle additional refugees, however, would become a much more strenuous process. Localities would have to hold a public hearing, adopt a resolution, and get approval from the head of the NCRAP before proceeding.
"It's a shockingly high bar for municipalities to prove that they can take more refugees, and it's making it easy to say, 'We don't want them,'" says Representative Duane Hall, D-Wake. "This bill is driven by fear. It's xenophobic."
Of the four sponsors, only Torbett and Cleveland represent districts that have actually taken in refugees in this decade: one (!) refugee each for the cities of Gastonia (2012) and Jacksonville (2010), both well before the recent conservative consternation about Syrian refugees in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels.
Of those two, Torbett has a long history of using his power to make it harder for immigrants to come to North Carolina.
As a Gaston County commissioner, Torbett sponsored a 2006 ordinance that stripped funding from all public programs aimed at helping undocumented immigrants adjust to life in the United States. The ordinance also ordered local law enforcement agencies to crack down on immigrants and partner with ICE in deportations.
In that legislation's text, Torbett blamed many of America's problems—"overcrowding in school classrooms, public parks, and recreation"; "creating havoc and death on our highways"; and a "lack of social and personal health care standards"—on the undocumented.
The next year, Torbett advocated against the county banking with Bank of America because of a pilot program that allowed people to obtain a credit card without a social security number. A county finance officer told the Gaston Gazette at the time that the decision would cost the city $31,000 per year.
Regardless, Torbett said, "We're not supporting a system that supports illegal immigrants."
Torbett did not respond to the INDY's request for comment.