Ellie Kinnaird

Basic Interview Metadata

Interview Text and Audio


Ellie Kinnaird discusses various interactions she has had with undocumented workers and Hispanic immigrants, first as mayor of Carrboro, North Carolina, and then as a North Carolina State Senator. She gives opinions on the general shift in attitudes of elected officials towards these communities in North Carolina. She has worked issues related to voter IDs and driver’s licenses. Kinnaird describes the emphasis that elected officials place on whether working with a particular population or addressing a particular issue will get them elected, as well as the relationship between the state of the economy and the reception immigrants are given in North Carolina. She recounts a trip she took to Mexico with the Center for International Understanding. Lastly, Kinnaird describes her frustrations with policies such as 287 (g) and Secure Communities, and her eventual decision to leave the legislature. She thinks the business community must play a key leadership role for attitudes towards immigrants and undocumented workers to ever change in North Carolina.



Hetali Lodaya: This is Hetali Lodaya. I’m interviewing former Senator Ellie Kinnaird, on April 8th, 2014, at the Chapel Hill Public Library. If you could just start by giving a brief background on your career in North Carolina, specifically the points at which you touched on issues of immigration in this community?
Eleanor Kinnaird: Well, of course I’ve lived here since 1964, so I have seen many, many changes. I have-the first change that would relate to immigration is that I was the mayor of Carrboro from 1987 through ‘95. And that was a period when there was a great influx of nondocumented, undocumented workers into our area through construction, because of so much economic activity, and so we had a great influx of workers. Who-many of whom settled in Carrboro. We did have some friction, which actually came about a little bit later, in which construction workers would gather on a street and wait to be picked up by worker-by employers. And it was in an African American neighborhood, so that caused some friction there. And that has been ongoing off and on for a number of years. And of course what they finally decided was they had an accommodation with the neighborhood, in which they restricted the hours that the undocumented workers waiting–we assume they’re undocumented workers–waiting–and they lived in apartments very close by there, and pretty much filled those apartments. And the neighborhood-and the accommodation was that they would limit the number of hours that the workers could stand there waiting for people to pick them up. That was later overturned, none of this was when I was the mayor, I mean, the labor part, because of-this is a right to peaceably assemble, many people said, and that they weren’t really causing trouble. I actually drove by that area every day on my way to Raleigh, and they did not cause a problem. There was not litter, they were not confronting people, they were just there. But it was a large group. It could be as many as forty people. And I think that was intimidating to some of the people who lived around there. As I say, it was an African-a historically African American community, with some mix of students, but for the most part that’s what it was. So there was that friction, and now I think they are trying to find a place-I’m trying to think of where it is-Main Street, where they will congregate, waiting to be picked up-picked up by the employers. I got more directly involved when I went to the senate in 1996. By this time it was a state-wide issue. And at first, everybody was very friendly. There was boom time, economic needs for workers, for-for workers who would work for low pay, low skill jobs, so they were very much welcomed into the state. I also represented Chatham county, which had a very large influx, because Siler City had a large chicken processing plant, so they had-they started a Hispanic center there, El Vinculo Hisp-I don’t, I think that’s the name of it. So I represented that area, and was very familiar with them, attended a couple-they had a couple festivals, Hispanic festivals, and at that time, El Pueblo was a very large festival. And it had moved actually from Chapel Hill, to I think the fairgrounds in Raleigh. I haven’t seen much about it there. People were actually very interested in welcoming this Hispanic, kind of large Hispanic community, both in places like Siler City. Oh no, they had no problem, Siler City. This was a very lower middle class white town, and when the influx of the workers came in, the migrant workers-not migrant workers, the workers for immigrating, because migrant workers are of course farm workers, and that’s a different category, and I do have something interesting about that one later on, in the legislature, which I want to come back to-but what happened was the entrenched, long serving government in Siler City was responding to their constituency, their citizens, who were beginning to get very upset over this large influx. So, they decided they would send out a flyer to all of the immigrants, and they were pretty much in neighborhoods where they could be located easily, about how to behave in Siler City.
HL: Wow.
EK: And they told them their children had to be dressed when they went outside, no chickens in the front yard, they had to fix their screen door if it broke, and that sort of thing. Well, that upset the liberals in Chatham County, of which there are a lot. Not necessarily in Siler City, they happen to be closer to Chapel Hill. So they got very upset, and so they objected to the town government in Siler City about this, and then somehow the people in Siler City decided they needed to really confront this, so they invited David Duke, who was head of the KKK at one time. So they had a rally, in Siler City, I believe it was, where David Duke came with all of the KKK types, and confronted the liberal types. I’m sure the Hispanics were nowhere to be seen, because they didn’t want to get involved in this. So there was that, when I was representing Chatham County early on. But other things were happening, people were welcoming them, and El Pueblo started, a big festival for celebrating the Hispanic community that was coming in. In the legislature, we actually required that ballots be printed in Spanish, and that the matricula consular would be allowed to be used for identification anywhere, including driver’s licenses. [pause] But then of course the economy began to go bad. There was an increasing reaction, and at the same time, these anti-immigrant groups were beginning to set up shop and became very active. What’s the name of that-I’m mixing up with (7:43) but-ALIPAC is a very, very hostile to immigration group, and they’re alive and well today, and you can look on their-their website, and they’re constantly trying to do that. That came out of a person who was a representative of a Senator from Alamance County, Hugh Webster. And he began really this anti-Hispanic drumbeat, and his intern at the time, or his assistant, went off to start ALIPAC. It has been very active ever since. Of course, in the meantime, with the economy going down, you began to get friction everywhere. Friction in the poultry industry between low income workers and the undocumented, friction in the hog industry, friction in the fact that construction had suddenly completely stopped because the housing bubble went, so you have a lot of people there, people were no longer needing a lot of maids and service workers in the hotels, so all of a sudden, everything changed. And all those people who’d been welcomed in as workers, who had set up businesses in Siler City, were changing radically. And they became very hostile, and this really showed in the legislature. So, we go from welcoming all these folks with ballots printed-ballot instructions printed in Spanish, and the matricula consular being used as-to saying, no, we’re not even going to let these folks get driver’s licenses. That was the most severe punishment that the state could have placed on these undocumented workers. And then things really began to get bad. The sheriff in Johnston County, the sheriff in Alamance County, and it began to be a campaign problem. Because the Democrats who were in power were seeing this tide turn, and so they began ramping up the anti-immigration rhetoric and campaign material. And of course, by that time, people couldn’t drive in the-and the sheriffs were beginning to stop people, the horror stories began. We had, in Alamance County, we had a family stopped and the children were left on I-whatever that major highway is, 85, I think it is-all night long. We had people stopping cars on checkpoints that were obviously aimed at Hispanics, and then another thing cropped up, and this was really bad. The 287 (g). This was a program in which sheriffs could stop people on any pretext, and that’s what was happening, on any pretext, book them for whatever it was, and not only-you know, if it was no driver’s licenses. Because by this time, you’ve got this large population who couldn’t get driver’s licenses, but had to get to work, had to get their children to the doctor, had to take them to school, and they were being stopped. And so the sheriffs then would not only say, you don’t have a license, show up in court two weeks from now, they were taking them to jail. Now if you and I get stopped for not having a license, we get a notice to go to court, we don’t go to jail. This was a very discriminatory practice. And, in addition the 287 (g) meant that the sheriffs would get paid for the people to be in their jail who could be then deported. I tried year after year after year to stop the legislature from giving them money! They gave them $100,000 to the sheriff’s association to carry out the 287 (g). Then there’s another program which even Orange County, liberal Orange County got into, and I’m trying to think of the name of that one.
HL: Not Secure Communities?
EK: Yes, Secure Communities. Even Orange County got that. And I don’t think that was publicized very well, or I think people in Chapel Hill would have been very upset, that our sheriffs did that, and that did the same thing, that allowed them to stop on any pretext, take these folks to jail, get paid a per diem for every one that they had, and then they’d be turned over and deported. So what had been a welcoming community in North Carolina all of a sudden became not only a hostile one, but one aggressively acting against these folks. So then when the campaigns came around, by this time the United States had gotten into this very hostile aggressive stance against them, and when people run for office, they hire consultants. And these consultants go around the state, and they might do Ohio in part of the year, and North Carolina another, and Texas another, and they decided that the tide had turned and the polls showed that there was a great anti-immigration sentiment in the state of North Carolina. So they advised those folks running for office, and I’m talking about–these are my colleagues. And I kept arguing against that and said look, you just don’t do that to these people who are actually contributing to our economy. James Johnson at the school of business-if you don’t know that name, you really do need to know him, of course-did a large study that showed how much they added to our economy, and how we needed them. And of course in the future, as the United States’ population grows older, and our birth rate goes down, we’re going to need workers to take care of all those older folks. But nothing was rational in this argument, and so what they did was they began-everybody began campaigning on an anti-immigrant, anti-undocumented worker platform. Actually, it backfired in two places. One of them was David Redwine, was running for the house from the ocean, from the beach, from the coast. And they depend on heavily on immigrant workers in the-in the shellfish, in the fishing industry. So what happened was, these campaign consultants did a one-size-fits-all, they ran an anti-immigrant campaign for him, and he lost. Because what they needed was more to keep their, their economy going, these workers, and same thing happened with another person. So the hostility towards these folks was rampant in the legislature. And I pleaded and begged with my colleagues, my Democratic colleagues-please don’t run these campaigns, these anti-immigrant campaigns. And one of them was actually a minister, and I said to him, how can you do this? You’re a minister! And he said, well, I gotta get elected, and this is a big issue. So it just flipped, a hundred and eighty degrees. And those who were welcomed all of a sudden just were, were the real object of hostility and aggression in order to get elected and to me that was very-that was very sad. I think that the matricula consular is actually still on the statues. But nobody pays any attention to it, and of course the DMV can no longer issue those. Now, nationwide, there is a move to undo that. And I’m hoping that someday we in-but we’re so conservative. The one thing is that the business people maybe want that driver’s license back for their workers, and they may be able to influence the Republicans, that would be my hope. Now, I’m going to go back to migrant workers. Migrant workers in North Carolina are treated very, very badly as we know. In the past, now, it’s shifting now, because the population is shifting to urban centers, but in the past, especially Eastern North Carolina farmers, had a great deal of power-still do-and there are all these groups that are trying to work with migrant farmers, like the Episcopal Farmworkers Group, and all these groups, and all they want are sanitation, protection from pesticides and being sprayed with all of these things, a place that’s clean to wash their hands in the fields, toilets, and decent living in the barracks that they live in. Year after year after year we-this was introduced. And interestingly, the only thing that went through was from a hog farmer in Duplin County, or a man who represented hog farms in Duplin County, of all places-and soybean farmers-was that each person coming in was required to have a clean mattress. I mean, the only thing, you know, it’s just-and we had to fight to get that through. But then there was a caveat, if they turn it in, and there was anything on it, they lost the money for that and they had to pay it back or something. It was-it was really-so what we saw reflected in the greater population was concentrated in the legislature. And maybe some local governments, I don’t know. And it’s there to this day. I don’t think it’s turned around. Because of course in the meantime we have a second recession, and that just really did it. Now, the one thing that happened though, the 287 (g), we gave them $100,000, I tried to keep that from getting in the budget, because I was chair of JPS, Justice and Public Safety, the appropriations that appropriated the money. Well, I lost on that one. I think then it went down to $50,000 the next year, because the economy was beginning to sink, and finally when the Republicans went in, they got rid of the 287 (g) money. So, at least-but the harassment goes on. I just heard from our federal clinic that our Chapel Hill-now I don’t know this for a fact, I have to follow up on it-that they may have been doing some checkpoints. Now that federal clinic takes all comers, and that’s largely Hispanic. You walk in the-in the waiting room, it looks like Little Mexico. And so we still have a cluster. I don’t know what happened in Siler City because I’ve asked about that, a couple times-the chicken processing plant closed. But in the meantime, they had set up quite a little community there. They had restaurants, and they had lots of things for the Hispanic community. And it was very well established in Siler City. There’s a clinic there, a mental health clinic. But I don’t know what’s happened, and that might be something worth following up to find out what’s happened to that. If you go to-I think it’s Vincula-does that sound right? Vinculo Hispano?
HL: I think so.
EK: You can find out whether that Hispanic population has left Siler City.
HL: Sure. Going back to your experiences in the legislature, as different pieces of legislation are brought forward, for example, when you last year introduced a piece of legislation trying to again have a tax identification number as a way to get a driver’s license, when there’s opposition to these policies, is there a broader theme in which that opposition is couched? Is it the economy, is it about immigration, what-what terms do, do elected officials that are opposed to these things talk in?
EK: Getting elected. It’s very simple. It has nothing to do with logic, it has nothing to do with facts, it has nothing to do with moral issues. Are you going to get elected or not elected if you introduce it? So, you can introduce something, and brave souls do, but unless their leadership is going to accept it, it’s not going anywhere. It won’t even get assigned to a committee. Because it’s poisonous for a campaign. Now, if you lived in a community and represented a community which was majority immigrants, that might work, but remember they don’t vote. So they can’t help you. Even though it may be the morally right thing to do, even though you believe that ethically it’s the right thing to do, it won’t make no difference whatsoever.
HL: So do most elected officials view immigrants in North Carolina, do you think, as their constituents, or as constituents that they should care about?
EK: There’s a difference between a constituent and a voter. Elected officials are about voters, and they count. And they court potential voters, but if they’re not voters, they’re not even going to pay any attention. Oh, they might go to the festival, because, you know, that looks good, but they’re simply not going to respond in any way to help them.
HL: And do you feel that this attitude has changed significantly, specifically in elected officials, from when you first came to the state legislature to, you were talking about downturns in the economy in the past couple of years? Did that attitude change very perceptibly?
EK: Radically. It was the most obviously thing you could-as I say, you’re counting votes, and the only thing that would turn this around is the business community. And the business community is very closely tied to the Republican Party. It used to be tied to the Democratic Party, when they were in power, but they’re not in power anymore. If the business community-and by the way, there’s a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, there’s another Hispanic business group, I can’t think, I just heard about it last week-I’ll give you another instance of this. I was-when I was working in the building that the Justice Center is located in in Raleigh, they had a very large-and they still do, a large Hispanic services. I don’t know exactly what it is, but-and so there was a woman there whom I knew, because I saw her on a daily basis. When I very first went into the legislature, and to the Senate-and at that time, as I say, people were embracing and welcoming the Hispanic population-and the president pro tem, Marc Basnight, wanted a Hispanic liaison. So he asked around if anybody knew anybody who would be good. So I said, oh yes, Mattie Laszlo Chatterdon is wonderful. She’s from Peru, not Mexico, but nevertheless she had close ties with the Hispanic community, because that were her job at the Justice Center. And so I introduced her to Senator Basnight, and she was hired, and she was there until the Republicans took over. And in the meantime, the Democrats, even though they had sort of turned their back on it, on the Hispanic population, they still, you know, were friendly with Mattie and whatnot, and she would try-she would be a liaison for people who-Hispanic people who needed help. And since she was in the president pro tem’s office, she had access to a lot of power. And-but of course, as soon as the Republicans came in, she was let go. And so I just saw her the other day, she doesn’t have a job. So the radical change could slowly be changed if the economy improves to the point where we need those workers again. And it’s beginning to pick up. Construction is beginning to pick up. And construction owners need people to drive their trucks. And if they get-if they’re in danger of getting stopped, and losing the license, and the truck is in the middle of the road someplace, when the police confiscate it, they’re going to be pretty upset. So what they are going to do as helping their business, possibly get together with the Republicans and say-now, they did do something last year, and I’m trying to think of what it was. They did do something once. Last year. Because the business community needs these workers. I know that they raided, about six years ago I think it was, they raided the hog processing plant at Smithfield, or it’s the one on the coast, can’t remember which. And there were a lot of undocumented workers. And I don’t know how that came out. It’d be interesting to find out how that came out. Presumably, there were other workers, you know, who took those jobs. One of the things is that I know that the working conditions are very bad, in those processing plants, both the chicken processing and the hog processing plants, I do know that there’s a lot of competition at the bottom for jobs. Do we know how many American workers are put out of work? We don‘t know. But that would be an interesting thing to find out. What happened when all those Hispanic workers, undocumented workers were let go doing the raid, and who-was it African-Americans that took their jobs? What the advocates for Hispanics have been saying all along is nobody wants these jobs. Well, maybe that’s not the case. It does drive down wages, we know there’s wage theft, that’s a big problem with the Hispanic undocumented population, who is-who are taking these construction jobs, taking these jobs. In the meantime, a lot of the construction jobs that lead to small businesses like painting, and remodeling, have been established by Hispanics, I don’t know whether they’re documented or undocumented, they do drive trucks. So there is a-a class of workers, business owners, that have set up here. Both in Siler City that I used to represent-it wasn’t that long ago, I actually had Chatham County just until last August-and these small businesses are-whether they’re still striving or not. But I know I see around here-of course we didn’t go through the economic boom in or-recession in Orange County as badly, but-I see a lot of Hispanic painters, you know, trucks with Hispanic names on them and all Hispanic workers, and to this day, in this area, you will see landscapers, gardeners, and [pause] people in probably the back room of dishwashers in restaurants, that sort of thing. So we still have a population. I don’t know how much it’s diminished, but I do know that the legislature at this point will do nothing until the business community says they need these workers. We need for them to have driver’s licenses. So when that will happen, I don’t know.
HL: So the business community is obviously one stakeholder group, and there’s others, there’s nonprofits, and foundations that do advocacy work, there’s students that do advocacy work, that kind of thing. What-do you think those groups have been effective at engaging with the legislature over, sort of, your time? Do you think they can be effective?
EK: Remember voters. That’s the only thing that counts. They were very helpful when people embraced and welcomed Hispanics, oh yeah. All the non-profits, they were there. Business community was there, everybody was on board. But until it becomes something that the business community wants-but then you have things like ALIPAC. And if you haven’t looked at that website, you really need to look at it. It is juts full of venom and hate. Their goal is to have no immigration whatsoever, and to get rid of it, all of the undocumented workers and Hispanic workers. And residents in the state of North Carolina. I do know one thing that happened when I was on the board of an organization which helps women with-prisoners with children and the children of prisoners. My friend, who served on the board with me, was-is the public health director in Alamance County. And they came in and she was put on suspension from her job, along with another person, for treating undocumented people. And she got her job back, I think the nurse did not, though. So this type of attitude was spreading, and that was Alamance County, where of course the sheriff is now, right now, being investigated by the Justice Department. So these things are just reflect the attitude of the economic need for what are essentially throwaway workers. You know, we embrace them when we need them, and then we just throw them away and treat them badly when we don’t, with 287 (g), and all of the things like the checkpoints and I know that it’s a serious problem with families, where they even are afraid to drop their children off to school. Of course we have buses, I don’t know why they would drop them off anyway, that’s another story.
HL: North Carolina’s been in the national media a lot for issues relating to immigration, things like voter ID, things like access to drivers’ licenses. Do you think that affects how the legislature and elected officials in North Carolina approach these issues, talk about these issues, deal with them?
EK: Nope. The only thing they care about is getting elected. If you don’t have a constituency that can vote for you, then, you know, I mean. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some compassionate people. But the fact is, you can introduce all the bills you want, but if you’re leadership thinks it’s going to harm your, your caucus, there’s nothing, they’re simply not going to even assign it to a committee. Now, interestingly, we do have a very powerful Republican majority leader, Tom Apodaca, and he has prevented the worst of the bills that would be punitive from coming through. And, I forgot about that. Tom Apodaca has just-when the Democrats were in power, we kept all those anti-immigration bills from coming through. And the other one was of course with our, they could, Hispanic, undocumented people could go to community college. And then of course they could go to community college because that’s the law, but what they can’t do is get in-state tuition. So several of the students approached me before I left the legislature-in fact, one of them ran for student body president-and they wanted me to get an appointment with Jim Johnson to see if he would help them get this in-state tuition. Of course, he doesn’t do that, he’s a scholar, a researcher, he doesn’t do that. But I got the meeting, and they were pleased. Oh, the other thing-this is happening before I left, and boy, I thought this was a really bad move. Those students and those people were advocating for getting undocumented people licenses, driver’s licenses, got a bill, and they got some Republicans, and they worked on it, and I saw them week after week after week meeting with legislators trying to get the bill through. But it was draconian. Sure, they could get the driver’s licenses. But if anybody got caught without a driver’s license, they went to jail, they were put up for deportation, I mean it was-I said, you know, you don’t want that compromise, that’s not worth it, and they said it’s worth it to us to get these driver’s licenses. Now the fact-I think it got assigned to a committee, whether it got a hearing or not I don’t know, but I saw them there week after week after week meeting with all of these legislators. And so perhaps they were able to get through to enough people that-things that are tough take maybe ten years to get through-that maybe in a few years they might be able to turn the driver’s licenses issue around and be able to get licenses and several states have done it. I’ve forgotten where they are now, I think one was Arizona or New Mexico, one of those places that are so hostile.
HL: Absolutely. Talking a little bit about your own personal experience, so you had mentioned that you went on one of the trips, one of the first trips with the Center for International Understanding to communities in Mexico. Can you talk a little bit about that and how it shaped your, just, view on what you were to do as an elected official related to these issues?
EK: Well, that was the time when the Hispanic population was welcomed by the business community. And so there was a lot of interest. And of course it was almost the most sudden thing that happened, I guess this is after NAFTA-this happened because of NAFTA. All of a sudden in our towns and cities and rural areas, just lots of Hispanic people we had never seen before. And we all said, where are these people coming from? Well, they were coming up to work, of course, because of NAFTA, had taken their work away and a lot of the farm bill problems is that they lost the ability to make money on their farms. And so people began getting really interested. And of course the Center for International Understanding was one of the very first to pick up on this. So they invited various people from various careers and representatives, we had people from, I think, Duke Health, we had educators, we had a police officer from Cary, we had a-several, I think, there were four of us in the legislature, and what they wanted to show us was where these folks that all of a sudden appeared in great quantity in our streets and our towns, where they were coming from. And so that’s what we did, we went to the areas where they were coming from. And we started at the university, with a sort of a history of the regions that we were visiting, and then we went to a school, which was largely built by the families of these students, and we asked the students how many had family members, we talked about that, and almost all the hands were raised. And then when we asked do you want to, almost all the hands went up. Then we went to a clinic in a slum, I think it was, we went to, I’m trying to think of all of the-we went to a maquiladora, where they manufactured cheap goods, for the US. I’m trying to think-we were, we went about four places-oh, we went to a microfinancing business, and we went-I can’t remember, we went one other place where these folks lived. Oh, I know, we went to a little village where they actually invited us into their home and gave us a wonderful welcome, with their candy and whatnot. And what was striking about this village was, they were making these little concrete block houses, very simple, you know, they made them themselves. And where we went they had a pig, and a chicken, and I don’t think they had a cow, but they had some animals right there. But what was striking about this village was that they had built these houses, these were very simple houses, but there were no men. There were, of course, sending back money so that they could build these. And interestingly, I think a lot of the people who had made enough money here, when the downturn in the economy came, just went back to those houses with their pig and their chickens and that sort of thing. So that was-and so, then, the last night, we went to the home of a rich industrialist, and they’re like fortresses, you know. It had walls around with spikes and glass sticking up, that sort of thing. To protect these-and it was a beautiful mansion, beautiful grounds. So he owned a factory, a textile factory, and of course, we come from North Carolina, the home of tex-the former home of textile factories. And he spent the evening complaining that the Chinese were taking his work-his business-his source of his income away, because the textile mills were all going over to China. And we didn’t say anything, but we thought, ah, yes. We’re familiar with that story, that’s a familiar one to us. And so we did really get a view of what the people who were coming here, what their life was like. And it was a-a way to connect with, in a personal way, with all of those people that we were seeing in our everyday life.
HL: Absolutely. Did you feel-do you feel as though your ability to work with the immigrant community, the undocumented community in this area and in North Carolina was different in local government versus at the state legislature, so different as a mayor versus as a senator?
EK: Not really, because of course we-we did the matricula consular and we required that ballot instructions be written in Spanish, so we-and you know, and the driver’s license, we had a lot of power over those people. And I think that that’s something that-now the local folks had to accommodate housing and that sort of thing, and the friction between, as I say, the neighborhood, the African-American neighborhood and the folks who were standing there, so [pause] I think that on all levels, you have the same power to-over these lives, in one way or another. Interestingly, during this period, a bunch of us legislators decided we’re going to learn Spanish. Well, that was a big joke. So the institute came over, I think it was the institute, or might have been the one, Chicle, I think it was Chicle. Which is a language institute here in Chapel Hill. Came over and gave us a course, well, you know, we hadn’t studied, we hadn’t done our homework, we couldn’t pronounce anything, it was an absolute joke. But I still have those tapes, and I listened to them for years, but I couldn’t learn any Spanish. I tried and I tried and I tried but I just couldn’t learn any Spanish. So that goes to show you how we were welcoming, and we wanted to make them part of our lives even in the legislature. And so, we tried.
HL: Based on your experience and what you’ve seen, is there any way to go back to what the attitudes were like before, to something more welcoming, where policies are different and the debate is different and the language is different?
EK: The only thing that will help is if we go into a boom economy again, where they need these workers. Because our-the baby boomers are retiring, and they’re going to need care, and so there’s going to be a lot of service workers necessary. And our birth rate is almost zero. We’re going to need workers, and if there’s all of a sudden a huge construction boom, well, they’ll be very welcome and the business community will be clamoring to the legislature again to do something about it. So it’s going to be strictly economic and voting. It’s very-it’s very black and white.
HL: I guess the last thing that I wanted to touch on is your decision to leave the state legislature and work and do advocacy in different ways, particularly regarding issues of access to voting. Can you talk a little bit about making that decision and what’s the difference in what you are able to accomplish and the work that you can do?
EK: Well, when I-the last time I was elected, there were only-there were 33 Republicans and 17 Democrats in the Senate. We couldn’t do anything. We had absolutely no power whatsoever. And everything I’d worked on for 17 years, almost everything, was completely dismantled. Including, of course, all the voter work that I had done. So I just felt that there wasn’t anything I could do, this short session which is coming up in May, and I felt like I could, though, inform people about the changes to the voting laws and maybe even try to make sure that those groups that were most affected could possibly still retain some of their former voter-voting power. But that’s probably not very true, unfortunately.
HL: I have an anecdote from a student who does this advocacy work who said that especially when she’s in front of the legislature, her dialogue focuses on, very much on rational things. On revenue that undocumented individuals bring to the state, on things related to the economy, things related to business, she stays away from her personal story and that kind of thing. If you were to give advice to individuals doing this advocacy work in North Carolina, about working with legislators, would you agree with that approach? Are there things that need to be done that aren’t being done right now?
EK: There’s only one thing that counts, I keep coming back to this, and that is voting. If the business community felt that they are losing business because of this policy-these polices, those advocates should go to the business community and say, will you help us. Because if you’ve got, I don’t know, how many His-undocumented do they figure are in North Carolina? 400,000? If they can’t vote, you know, why would anybody court them? So what it really means is, if the business community finds this to their advantage, to start working to get this population served in some way or another. Now, as I said in my article, a large number of these children of undocumented workers are getting to be eighteen years old. And frankly, if I were one of those people representing some of these large population groups, I’d think about that. Because, are they going to be angry and vote against you, or are they going to be grateful that you helped them, and vote for you? That’s what I would be thinking about if I were there, while you’re counting votes, and-I think the one thing that’s not going to happen is, there won’t be campaign literature against Hispanics or immigration. Now somebody like Renee Elmers in Congress, that’s a different matter. She’s gotten herself apparently on the bad side of those people. But they can affect everybody. They can say, yeah, you’re all going to be citizens tomorrow-and by the way, the craziness that they’ve got where they have to be away for five years, and pay fines and-they’re already paying taxes. That is one thing that people really don’t understand, and I ran into that over and over. Well, they don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Not true, if they rent, they pay property taxes, every time they buy something, they pay sales taxes, and, if they work for a company that deducts their income tax, they never get that back, and their social security, they never get that back. And so, yes, they pay taxes, they pay more taxes than you pay. And they don’t get them back. So, I think that-but, I think it’s just going to take a change in the economy.
HL: Absolutely. I think [pause] yeah, I think that’s all the questions that I have.
EK: Ok. Good.

The following addition was sent via email after the interview:
EK: You asked when attitudes in the legislature might change toward undocumented workers and how it could happen. I talked about the business community being the key. I had intended also to say that the agriculture sector from truck garden produce such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers in the east to Christmas trees in the mountains has great influence. While I talked the poultry industry about having influence, I think these farmers have even more influence since it is labor intensive and the migrant workers cannot completely meet the demand for workers. In fact, there are many undocumented workers hired alongside the migrant workers and has been for years. To show their influence, a bill last session that required employers to check the national social security and citizen status list exempted farm workers. There was an article in yesterday's paper about the shortage of construction and service workers in Colorado that I think will be mirrored soon throughout the U.S. including North Carolina.