By: Juan Arreola ("Tony")
The murder of Kathryn Steinle by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco last July brought so-called sanctuary cities to the forefront. The term “sanctuary city” is often used incorrectly to describe cities and towns that some believe provide a safe haven for undocumented immigrants by shielding them from the enforcement of immigration laws against them. In reality, these cities and towns have merely adopted community policing policies aimed at making communities safer by fostering trusting relationships between the police and the immigrant community.
Last October, Governor Pat McCrory signed into law N.C. House Bill 318 (“HB 318”) banning so-called sanctuary cities, among other things. In short, the law prohibits cities and counties from passing laws and ordinances that obstruct the enforcement of federal immigration laws, that limit local law enforcement from gathering information regarding the immigration status of any individual, and that limit local law enforcement from communicating information regarding a person’s immigration status to federal law enforcement agencies.
But HB 318 is simply not necessary.
First, the provision banning cities and counties from obstructing the enforcement of immigration laws outlaws a practice that does not exist in North Carolina, or anywhere else. No community policing policies exist which actively prevent federal immigration authorities from enforcing immigration laws. In fact, under the Priority Enforcement Program, local law enforcement work together with the Department of Homeland Security to detain undocumented immigrants who pose a danger to public safety, despite adoption of sanctuary policies.
The fingerprints of individuals arrested for a committing a criminal offense are automatically forwarded by local law enforcement to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”). If ICE decides that the detained individual is a priority for removal (deportation) from the United States, ICE will work to have the individual transferred to their custody, by issuing an immigration detainer requesting that the individual be held in the custody of local law enforcement until the alien can be transferred to ICE custody.
However, local cooperation with ICE detainers is completely voluntary. It is true that some communities refuse to cooperate with ICE requests to hold individuals based solely on having violated civil immigration laws, but doing so does not violate federal law. On the contrary, refusing to hold those individuals perfectly aligns with constitutional due process principles. Essentially, refusing to detain individuals ensures that local municipalities do not run afoul of the Constitution and will not be held liable for violating individuals’ Constitutional rights.
Second, HB 318 attempts to regulate an area of law that it has no business regulating. The federal government enforces immigration law. States enforce criminal laws. The roles are clear and have been affirmed by the Supreme Court. In Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona law which, among other things, required that local law enforcement check the immigration status of individuals reasonably suspected of being in the United States illegally, holding that enforcement of immigration policies is solely a federal undertaking and that states cannot “contradict or complement” immigration policy.
Thus, the provision that prohibits cities and counties from limiting local law enforcement officials from gathering information related to any individual’s immigration status appears to be prohibited in itself by that previous Supreme Court ruling. Moreover, inquiry into any individual’s immigration status by local law enforcement opens the door to racial profiling based on individual appearance. As a consequence, the provision creates mistrust, which completely contradicts the cities and towns’ goals of fostering trust between the police and immigrant community.
HB 318’s Impact on Local Communities
The Town of Carrboro is frequently referred to as a sanctuary city. Carrboro prides itself as being a “compassionate and caring community” that creates a “welcoming environment for all people.” Several town policies highlight Carrboro’s dedication to embracing its diverse, vibrant, and healthy immigrant community. For instance, in 2006, Carrboro instituted a policy that prevented its police department from arresting or detaining persons based solely on their immigration status. In 2014, the town welcomed Central American minors fleeing violence in their native countries. Most recently, in November 2015, Carrboro passed a resolution declaring the town a safe haven for Syrian refugees. These types of inclusive policies, as well as others, are often cited by immigration opponents to derisively label Carrboro a refuge for undocumented immigrants.
But Carrboro’s Mayor, Lydia Lavelle, is proud of Carrboro’s inclusive policies. She believes the policies create a trusting relationship between Carrboro’s police department and its immigrant community. However, after HB 318 was signed into law, Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen, passed a resolution repealing its 2006 policy of not arresting or detaining persons based solely on their immigration status and confirming that all future policies adopted by Carrboro will be consistent with HB 318 requirements.
Like many advocates opposed to HB 318, Mayor Lavelle believes that it will create fear among its immigrant community. She fears that instead of making Carrboro safer, it will have the opposite effect. For instance, undocumented immigrants will be less likely to report crimes fearing that they will be deported if they come forward. As a result, crimes against undocumented immigrants will go unreported and they will be more likely to be the targets of criminal activity. To combat the anti-immigrant perception generated by HB 318, Carrboro, along with El Centro Hispano, has worked hard to reassure its immigrant population that the town will remain a welcoming environment for all people.
Laws like HB 318 continue to alienate and vilify the immigrant community. By appearing tough on undocumented immigrants, the law appeals to a conservative, anti-immigrant faction of constituents at the expense of a rapidly growing electorate of immigrant. Immigrant voters will be less inclined to vote for or support a party that constantly belittles them. The issues that lead to illegal immigration are complex and a solution to the problem will be just as complex. Recognizing that a problem exists but offering no real solution or willingness to work towards one only exacerbates the problem. Real solutions take time, patience, and compromise.