State Politics

NC House panel debates tougher immigration laws, penalties for sanctuary cities

Thousands rally in downtown Raleigh to protest Trump immigration policies

Thousands gather to voice their opposition to the immigration policies of President Donald Trump on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, on Bicentennial Mall in Raleigh.
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Thousands gather to voice their opposition to the immigration policies of President Donald Trump on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, on Bicentennial Mall in Raleigh.

An N.C. House committee is considering a bill that would crack down on immigration “sanctuary cities,” impose stiffer penalties for the use of fake IDs, and make it more difficult for immigrants here illegally to post bail while facing criminal charges.

The House Judiciary II Committee held a hearing on the “Citizens Protection Act of 2017” on Tuesday but didn’t vote on it yet. None of the six speakers who signed up from the hearing supported the measure, and most were there to represent immigrant groups or the American Civil Liberties Union.

Sponsored by four Republicans, the bill would allow judges to refuse bail for undocumented immigrants who are charged with a driving offense, a drug crime, sex crime or gang crime.

It would withhold tax revenues from beer and wine sales, telecommunications and natural gas from local governments that violate the state’s 2015 ban on sanctuary-city policies. And it would make it a felony to make, sell or possess a fake ID – with an exemption for fake IDs used for underage alcohol and tobacco purchases, which would remain a misdemeanor.

“It’s almost a rite of passage kind of thing,” said Rep. Harry Warren, a Salisbury Republican, referring to underage alcohol and tobacco purchases. “We don’t want to create a situation where we’re saddling teenagers with a felony count.”

Democrats, however, questioned whether that distinction would pass legal muster. “How do we get by with having two different classifications of people who are punished differently?” asked Rep. Susan Fisher, an Asheville Democrat.

Many of the speakers at the hearing voiced concerns about the provision preventing undocumented immigrants from being released while awaiting a trial.

Evelyn Smallwood, an immigration attorney from Durham, said the bill would result in lengthy jail time for people charged with minor infractions like driving without a license or registration.

“This law will do nothing but needlessly separate them from their family members at the expense of the state,” she said.

Sarah Gillooly, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina, said the bill raises constitutional concerns. “Federal courts have agreed that this system of detention violates the 4th Amendment of the Constitution,” she said.

It’s unclear which local governments might be affected by the penalties for sanctuary cities. The N.C. League of Municipalities has said it’s not aware of any towns or cities that are violating the 2015 ban on such policies.

Last year, the legislature considered but didn’t approve a plan to take away road and school construction funding from sanctuary cities. This year’s proposed penalty wouldn’t be as tough. “Those (tax collections) would be a smaller revenue stream than what was attempted last session, and it would be city specific,” Warren said.

The committee hasn’t yet set a date to vote on the bill.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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