Six pro-immigrant protesters were arrested outside of the North Carolina Governor's mansion in downtown Raleigh on Thursday after they blocked rush-hour traffic in protest of a controversial new law that encourages local police collaboration with federal immigration authorities.
The demonstrators walked into traffic lanes of Blount Street at about 4 p.m. as more than 200 people encouraged them with chants of "We are America!" and "No papers, No fear!" The six demonstrators locked their arms together with long plastic traps as a man quickly shackled their ankles together.
Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law Wednesday that prohibits city and county governments from directing their police officers to not collect people's immigration information and bars state or local government agencies from accepting consular registration cards or independently-issued cards as a form of identification.
At a bill signing at the Guilford County Sheriff's Office in Greensboro, where the city council had opposed the measure, McCrory said his goal was to keep local governments from tying the hands of police officers who are collaborating with federal immigration agents. He said that while federal lawmakers have done little to address the 11 million people living in the country without papers, he wants to keep local authorities from passing immigrant sanctuary policies.
"We have schools that are overcrowded. We have drug trafficking," McCrory said. "We have hospital emergency rooms that are often overflowing with patients. And most and worst of all, we now have the surge of human trafficking."
McCrory responded to the protests on Thursday saying individuals who arrive in the U.S. in a legal manner and follow laws are "a blessing to our state and a blessing to our country." He continued, "We want to continue that strength of our great country, but in doing so we must follow the law," the Associated Press reported.
César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, an immigration and criminal law professor at the University of Denver, said the law would have limited effect because federal law already requires law enforcement to report criminal suspects' immigration status to federal agents, and there are very few "sanctuary cities" across the country. In North Carolina, there are about a half dozen cities with ordinances friendly to undocumented immigrants, including Chapel Hill, Durham and Greensboro.
"These so-called sanctuary laws are present in the vast minority of jurisdictions, and that’s true in North Carolina just as it is in California or any other state," García Hernández said.
Demonstrators rallied outside the governor's mansion almost every day since late September when the Republican-led General Assembly sent the governor the bill. The opponents urged the governor to not sign the bill, which includes a non-immigration related measure that will reduce the amount of time unemployed able-bodied adults will be able to receive federal food stamp benefits.
On Thursday, protesters held signs saying "Stop The Hate, We Make America Great" or of a picture of McCrory's face on top of a Ku Klux Klan hood and suit. People starting dancing as a band with brass, horns and percussion sections joined them.
Enrique Martinez, who works at a concrete manufacturing company, stood near the front of the group and said he had protested almost every day in September outside of the governor's mansion. He said he felt the measure is racist and he intends to ask friends who are citizens to vote against a McCrory re-election.
"We sweat at construction sites," Marintez said. "And now they want to kick us out with this racist law. It’s not fair."