North Carolina Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan was true to her word when she voted for Senate Bill 744 on Thursday. She had told participants on a conference call t hat she wa s supportive of what she referred to as common - sense immigration legislation.
“I am for what is best for North Carolina,” she said, “and supporting the immigration bill is right.”
North Carolina’s other senator, Republican Richard Burr, voted against the bill.
The 30-minute conference call included brief statements about the immigration bill by Hagan, Larry Wooten, North Carolina Farm Bureau president, and Brooks Raiford, president and CEO of the North Carolina Technical Association.
Wooten said that the legislation could solve a problem that has plagued agriculture for many years – that of manual labor.
“A machine does not know the difference between a green and a ripe grape,” he said, stressing the importance of agricultural laborers in such areas as sweet potatoes, tobacco and Christmas trees, mentioning three large areas of North Carolina agricultural production.
Wooten said that the current $77 billion agriculture segment of the state’s economy could grow to $100 billion – inferring the passage of the bill would aid that progress.
Raiford talked of the concern of his 600 - member association at attracting and retaining highly skilled employees.
“There are 100,000 people employed in IT-related jobs in North Carolina,” said Raiford.
Many of the top students coming out of technical programs in the state are from foreign countries, and he said the current immigration policies drive these potential employees out of the country at the end of their education.
“We’re sending them home to become our competitors,” Raiford said. “We need policies that drive and support high tech.”
Hagan said the top priority of the bill was to secure the borders, then fix the economy, create a playing field where everyone plays by the same rules, and reduce the deficit.
The provisions in the bill that create what she called a tough, strong border were doubling the number of border agents from 20,000 to 40,000, and building 700 miles of fence.
“We can’t fix one side of the immigration situation and leave the back door open,” said Hagan.
Asked how border expenses would be paid for, Hagan said the bill will generate money through penalty fees and back-taxes collected from undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States, and those and other immigrants continuing to pay taxes.
She said the Congress ional Budget Office estimates $160 billion will be generated in the first 10 years, and $700 billion over the second 10 years in the bill is passed as written in the Senate and the House. .
Hagan said that the bipartisan Gang of Eight senators worked diligently to produce common - sense legislation, realizing it would not go through the process without amendments.
She stressed that after checking in with constituents, North Carolina businesses, high tech experts and those representing agriculture, she found the bill was in the best interest of North Carolina.