State Politics

NC Senate votes to ban immigrant ‘sanctuary cities’

Immigration activists chant behind a cardboard coffin on the front steps of the Attorney General's office at in 2014. Legislation approved in the state Senate would ban local governments from refusing to enforce immigration laws.
Immigration activists chant behind a cardboard coffin on the front steps of the Attorney General's office at in 2014. Legislation approved in the state Senate would ban local governments from refusing to enforce immigration laws. cliddy@newsobserver.com

The state Senate voted 32-11 to ban counties and municipalities from having “sanctuary city” policies that limit enforcement of immigration laws.

Supporters of the measure say local governments shouldn’t get to opt out of federal laws. They pointed to several “sanctuary cities” in North Carolina, including Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham.

Local governments would be banned from preventing their law enforcement officers from asking about a suspect’s immigration status. They also couldn’t stop law enforcement from sharing immigration information with federal authorities.

A final vote is set for Monday night; the House still must also vote on the bill.

“It just makes common sense to me that we as a legislature would not do anything that would entice any government entities under our oversight to break the law,” said Sen. Norman Sanderson, the Pamlico County Republican who presented the bill. “I think it’s sad that we’re even having to consider this kind of legislation.”

The “sanctuary cities” ban – which was added by the Senate this week – doesn’t spell out penalties for local governments that don’t comply. Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Randolph County Republican, said he’d like to add severe consequences.

“We need to punish them,” Tillman said. “If I could, I’d take their charters.”

Tillman said the local immigration policies create havens for criminals. “All that is is a welcome mat to come on in if you’re a criminal and you’re here illegally,” he said. “What in the world is wrong with reporting criminals?”

Immigration “sanctuary” policies differ between towns. Carrboro instructed its police several years ago to ignore deportation orders for immigrants here illegally if they aren’t wanted for other crimes. Chapel Hill police have had a policy to follow deportation orders but won’t ask about a suspect’s immigration status.

The immigration provision was added to a House bill that also requires state and local government agencies to hire only contractors that follow E-Verify laws to check workers’ immigration status. The bill also establishes that consular documents issued by a foreign embassy aren’t a valid form of identification.

That provision drew concern from Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat and candidate for attorney general. He says it would mean some immigrants would be listed as “John Doe” in court documents, making it harder to identify them.

“We should be making our state safer and not putting our people at risk,” he said.

Sanderson said the provision shouldn’t cause problems and has support from public safety officials.

A final provision in the bill is unrelated to immigration. It would direct the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to stop issuing waivers exempting food stamp recipients from federal work requirements.

Sanderson says the change would push unemployed people on food stamps to look for work. “I think you’re going to see a lot of them go and get that 20-hour-a-week job, or they’re going to enroll in some sort of higher education to improve their job skills,” he said.

But Sen. Angela Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat, said the provision could hurt unemployed people in rural counties where jobs are scarce.

“Because the recovery from the recession has not been even-handed, and many studies show the average time to find another job can take some people up to a year,” she said.

Bryant’s amendment to change the provision failed in a 12-31 vote along party lines.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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