Local governments with immigration “sanctuary city” policies could lose millions of dollars in state funding under a proposal the N.C. Senate approved Wednesday.
The Senate voted 34-15 along party lines to strip sanctuary cities of a variety of revenue sources distributed by the state: city street funding as well as revenue from beer and wine taxes, telecommunication taxes, sales taxes on video programming, taxes on natural gases and scrap tire disposal taxes.
Those revenues total $337 million for the entire state. Wake County, for example, would lose $3.9 million if it violated the state’s 2015 ban on sanctuary cities. Raleigh would lose $23 million if it violated the ban. Public universities that violate immigration laws would also face penalties.
“If they’re harboring these criminals, maybe they should lose their funding,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican who supports the measure. “I’m not concerned about lawbreaking cities.”
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The N.C. League of Municipalities has said it’s not aware of any cities and towns that still have sanctuary city policies. But a news release from Senate leader Phil Berger’s office said “officials in the cities of Winston-Salem and Charlotte have made public statements casting doubt on their willingness to abide by the law.”
Under Senate Bill 145, the state’s attorney general would be charged with investigating complaints that governments aren’t following federal immigration laws. Anyone could submit complaints, and the attorney general would hire additional staff at a cost of $382,000 in the first year of the law.
That process prompted concerns from Democrats, who voted against the bill. “This bill would turn the attorney general into an immigration czar and state budget officer,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Raleigh Democrat.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, said the provision would encourage people to act “almost like vigilantes” and “go after folks because they don’t look quite right,” calling the attorney general on Latino neighbors.
“I think you might see an avalanche of frivolous complaints filed,” he said. “I think it’s going to take an awful lot of resources to turn them around and investigate them in 45 days.”
Tillman disagreed, arguing that many of the complaints McKissick described would be addressed by calling local police.
The bill also includes a ban on “community IDs” issued by nonprofit groups to immigrants here illegally. Some law-enforcement agencies say the IDs can be helpful in identifying people during investigations, but opponents say they can be misleading about a person’s immigration status.
“One of the most sought-after things that an undocumented worker can have is a photo ID,” said Sen. Norman Sanderson, a Pamlico County Republican and the bill’s sponsor. “An ID in their pocket does give them a certain amount of confidence that they may not be asked about their status in this state.”
McKissick said banning the ID cards would make immigrants reluctant to contact police about crimes. “We should be encouraging people to get ID cards,” he said.
The bill now goes to the House, where a similar but narrower bill was filed earlier this year but has been stalled in the House Finance Committee, which hasn’t yet held a hearing. That bill doesn’t ban “community IDs” but would impose stiffer penalties for the use of fake ID.
President Donald Trump has also sought to strip funding from local governments that don’t enforce immigration laws.