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North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (right) talks about his strengths as he takes part in a panelist roundtable discussion in High Point in March.

GREENSBORO — Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday accused unnamed High Point manufacturers of pushing for a loophole in state law so they can hire illegal immigrants instead of American citizens.

Wednesday evening, state Sen. Jerry Tillman said an area furniture company wants to double its operation near High Point, but the expansion depended on the loophole because of a long-standing problem filling factory jobs.

McCrory’s comment came at a morning meeting of the N.C. Board of Education, as he discussed a bill that widens an exemption in the citizenship checks employers are typically required to run on potential employees. The governor vetoed that bill, but the state legislature overturned his veto Wednesday.

“In fact, some of the manufacturers in towns like a High Point worked hard for this bill because they, frankly, want to hire illegal immigrants as opposed to North Carolina workers,” McCrory said at the board meeting.

The News & Record listened to an audio file of the speech provided by WRAL. McCrory’s press office declined to clarify the remark, comment on it or name the manufacturers.

High Point business leaders reacted to the remark with surprise. But there’s a move afoot to expand United Furniture Industries’ plant in Trinity, and the company wanted the bill, according to Tillman, who represents the area.

United Furniture would add as many as 600 new jobs, Tillman, R-Randolph, said Wednesday night. Without the bill “the furniture expansion would certainly not take place,” he said.

An attempt to reach United Furniture executives Wednesday night was not successful. Tillman said his information came from company consultant Bob Cottam, who spoke with the News & Record Wednesday afternoon.

Attempts to reach Cottam again after Tillman’s comments were not successful.

Cottam said earlier in the day that he discussed the bill with state legislators, and he said his industry has “severe labor shortages.” But Cottam declined to comment on McCrory’s remarks, other than to say he planned “to reach out to the governor and his staff directly.”

He also noted that manufacturers can’t hire illegal workers by law, regardless of whether they opt out of E-Verify checks.

Tillman made the same point. But asked what other reason employers would have to avoid the checks, Tillman said he didn’t know.

Several local legislators said they knew nothing of a furniture or manufacturing lobby effort on behalf of the bill, which was primarily requested by farmers. But state Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, said Cottam was his primary furniture industry contact on the bill, which increases the length of time employers can hire someone without running his or her name through a federal immigration check called E-Verify.

The rule had been 90 days. This changes it to nine months.

Both Tillman and state Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, said they don’t know any area manufacturers employing people illegally, and if the governor does, he should report them. Faircloth said some manufacturers have trouble filling low-paying jobs, and perhaps someone could infer from that a desire to hire people who aren’t in the country legally.

“You have to stretch it a bit to say they’re going out to hire illegal aliens,” Faircloth said. “I think that’s reaching just a little too far. …That’s not a purpose of the legislation we worked on.”

McCrory, who grew up in nearby Jamestown, has predicted a surge of illegal immigration as a result of this bill, which takes effect immediately.


GREENSBORO — Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday accused unnamed High Point manufacturers of pushing for a loophole in state law so they can hire illegal immigrants instead of American citizens.

The comment came as McCrory discussed a bill that widens an exemption in checks for citizenship that employers are typically required to run on potential employees. The governor vetoed that bill, but the state legislature overturned his veto Wednesday.

McCrory discussed the issue during remarks to the N.C. Board of Education.

“In fact, some of the manufacturers in towns like a High Point worked hard for this bill because they, frankly, want to hire illegal immigrants as opposed to North Carolina workers,” he said.

The News & Record listened to an audio file of the speech provided by WRAL.

Later on Wednesday, McCrory’s press office declined to clarify the remark, comment on it or name the manufacturers.

Response from High Point was, in a word, “Wow.”

“I am actually shocked that he would say that, and maybe it was just a misspeak,” said Melanie McNamara, who owns Absolute Style Furniture and hosted McCrory campaign events last year at her High Point manufacturing plant.

High Point Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Kelly Sain called it “kind of a slap to High Point.”

“I haven’t heard anything about (the bill from manufacturers),” Sain said. “That tells me it’s probably not a real high priority, to be honest.”

Several Guilford County legislators said no one from High Point lobbied them. State Rep. John Faircloth, who represents much of High Point, and State Sen. Trudy Wade, said there was interest from the area’s furniture industry, though.

Faircloth, R-Guilford, said United Furniture Industries’ consultant Bob Cottam was “the one that I primarily spoke with” about the bill. United Furniture is located in Trinity, just south of High Point.

“I don’t know about any effort to hire illegal aliens,” Faircloth said. “That’s not a purpose of the legislation we worked on.”

Faircloth said some manufacturers have trouble filling low-paying jobs, and perhaps “someone could read through that.” Cottam said there are “severe labor shortages” in North Carolina manufacturing.

McCrory, who grew up in nearby Jamestown, has predicted a surge of illegal immigration as a result of this bill.

“You have to stretch it a bit to say they’re going out to hire illegal aliens,” Faircloth said. “I think that’s reaching just a little too far. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I’m not privy to that.”

Cottam said there wasn’t a big lobbying effort from his industry, and that manufacturers can’t hire illegal workers by law, regardless of this legislation.

The bill increases the length of time employers can hire someone without running his or her name through a federal immigration check called E-Verify. The rule had been 90 days. This changes it to nine months, an increase requested by farmers.

Cottam expressed surprise at the governor’s remarks, but said it would be “inappropriate” to comment. He said he planned “to reach out to the governor and his staff directly.”

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​Contact Travis Fain at (336) 373-4476, and follow @travisfain on Twitter.

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