Durham News

Durham leaders reviewing new anti ‘sanctuary’ law


Durham officials are still reviewing the impact of a law that Gov. Pat McCrory signed last week preventing cities from having “sanctuary ordinances” for people who are in the country illegally.

But Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez already has concerns.

“We are going to have individuals who otherwise would have filed a complaint because they were victims, not do so,” Lopez said. “And we are going to have individuals who have information about crime in Durham, and they are not going to call.”

The state legislation prevents cities and counties from adopting sanctuary ordinances that limit or restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

The law also prevents law enforcement or government officials from accepting identification cards issued by the Mexican consulate to confirm someone’s identity.

McCrory signed the legislation Thursday.

Some have described the law as preventing “sanctuary cities,” but it’s unclear exactly what that term means.

Deborah M. Weissman, a UNC law professor, called the term “sanctuary cities” a misnomer, in most cases.

In general, she said, “it’s a term that’s used to describe community policing policies,” that try to limit the entanglement between local police and federal immigration authorities.

“They do that for law enforcement to do what they need to do based on the trust and respect of the communities they work with,” she said. “And they have to make sure that some communities aren’t particularly vulnerable to crime.”

Immigrants who are hesitant to contact police because of a lack of trust are more likely to be targeted, she said.

In response, cities adopted policies that don’t prohibit the enforcement of federal immigration law, Weissman said, but take a stance because it serves local policing.

Lopez, City Manager Tom Bonfield and City Attorney Patrick Baker said Durham isn’t a sanctuary city, but it does have some policies that conflict with the new state law.

Baker is exploring whether changes need to be made to one or more policies and a City Council resolution adopted in 2003, he said.

The 2003 resolution was adopted amid a crime wave targeting Hispanic people. Victims were reluctant to speak with police out of fear they would be asked for their immigration papers, Baker said.

The City Council passed a resolution stating that Durham employees and officers shall not inquire or seek to obtain the immigration status of individuals, unless otherwise required as part of their duties.

The resolution also states that in the event of a conflict with federal law or regulations, federal requirements would supersede any conflicting provision of the local resolution.

The gist of the resolution was to let the community know that when police answer calls for service their priority wasn’t to look at immigration status, Baker said.

That doesn’t mean if a person’s status became an issue, or if the person was charged with a violent crime, that the city wouldn’t investigate his or her status, Baker and Lopez said.

The state law doesn’t require officers go out and ask about a person’s immigration status, but bars local government from enacting a policy that prohibits it, Baker said.

The new state law also automatically repealed a resolution adopted by the City Council in 2010 that supports recognition of identification cards issues by the Mexican consulate.

For example, if police needed to know who someone was, such as a witness to a crime, an individual could use that card, Baker said. But the scope was limited, and someone couldn’t use that card to open a water or other service account with the city, he said.

Lopez said the changes that follow the new state law will likely translate into police officers no longer being mandated not to ask about immigration status during a traffic stop or minor issue.

“We will highly recommend that they do not,” Lopez said.

In most cases of contact, such as with traffic stops or dealing with victims of crime, Lopez said, such an inquiry isn’t needed.

“I’m certain that the majority of officers in Durham, they aren’t as interested in the individual’s naturalization status as they are the investigation,” he said.

Virginia Bridges: 919-829-8924, @virginiabridges