This story has been updated to reflect the discovery of two more “sanctuary cities” in North Carolina.
In the wake of the murder of Kathryn Steinle, allegedly by an illegal immigrant, a furor has erupted over so-called “sanctuary cities” where illegals are shielded from federal immigration authorities.
Here at NC Capitol Connection, we have been looking at what that means in North Carolina. It turns out to be a complex situation, but so far one conclusion seems fairly clear: Asheville’s policies make it the state’s clearest example of a sanctuary city.
The alleged shooter in the Steinle murder, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, is a Mexican national who was released by authorities in San Francisco earlier this year before allegedly shooting the 32-year-old Steinle in the back on a pier in that city.
Here in North Carolina there are at least five “sanctuary cities” – Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Chapel Hill and Carrboro – that have passed resolutions outlining municipal policies about immigration violations.
Most immigration violations civil, not criminal
Immigration violations are generally not criminal offenses, but civil ones, which means that deportation is a civil procedure, not a punitive one.
The decision that deportation procedures are not punishment reaches back to an 1893 court decision in Fong Yue Ting v. United States.
In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an order of deportation is not punishment for a crime, but merely a tool to bring someone in the country illegally back into compliance with the law.
Because immigration violations are civil and not criminal, illegal immigrants are not afforded the same due process rights of the criminally accused, including a trial by jury.
The exception is for illegal immigrants who have committed felonies and been deported; their presence in the country is a criminal offense, authorities say.
Asheville ordinance is the most stringent
The Asheville City Council, in 2013, unanimously passed a “Civil Liberties Resolution” that outlines policies in reference to dealing with illegal immigrants, or those suspected of being illegal aliens.
Under the policy, “The City of Asheville opposes any efforts to transfer federal immigration responsibility to state and local officials, since these proposals tax our already overburdened police department and damage relationships with immigrant communities.”
The policy went on to describe the city’s desire to “play a leading role in the protection of civil liberties and to consistently promote tolerance and respect for all persons.”
The resolution clarifies that the city rejects “profiling of any group” or setting up check points or selecting certain areas of town for investigation based on any kind of profiling.
The policy goes into detail in regards to drivers without licenses, a common issue in debates over illegal immigration.
The policy states, “In accordance with Asheville Police Department policy, if officers stop a driver of a motor vehicle who cannot produce a valid operator’s license and a computer check show the driver has no license issuance information, a citation is sufficient enforcement action.”
The resolution goes as far to explicitly state the city does not actively participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police policy opposes inquiry into legal status
A directive in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department outlines the law enforcement agency’s stance on immigration issues.
The policy says that, “CMPD will not undertake immigration related investigations and will not inquire into the immigration status of persons encountered during police operations.”
The policy however does leave room for police officials to investigate the immigration status of suspected gang affiliates.
Chapel Hill votes not to detain illegal immigrants
The town of Chapel Hill passed a resolution saying local police will not take illegal immigrants into custody based solely on their status as an illegal.
Carrboro has a similar policy, as discussed below.
Policies like Chapel Hill’s and Carrboro’s do leave room for illegal immigrants who are felons to be arrested, according to Lt. Josh Mecimore with the Chapel Hill Police Department.
Under the town’s policy, those with felony deportation orders would be taken into custody for federal immigration authorities. Those with civil violations only, and who do not have felony criminal records, would be released.
Mecimore said this is because state law enforcement agencies do not have the legal authority to enforce a civil immigration order; they only have the authority, and duty, to enforce domestic civil orders under state law.
“If a person is a previously deported felon, we would hold them for immigration,” Mecimore said.
He said that they would run a National Criminal Information Center (NCIC) check on the person, the same as anyone else taken into custody, and if that report came back listing the person as a felon, officers would contact immigration authorities to come pick the alien up.
“A lot of people don’t understand that the role of law enforcement is criminal enforcement,” he said.
Both Chapel Hill’s and Carrboro’s policies specify civil immigration violations, while Durham’s policy stops city employees, including police officers, from investigating immigration status.
Durham employees not to investigate immigration status, request documentation
In 2003, Durham passed a resolution saying that the city supported the rights of all persons, regardless of their immigration status.
The resolution, which outlines the city policy but does not make statutory changes, said, “Durham has been a city that traditionally is open to and inclusive of all individuals and respects the rights of and provides equal services to all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, or immigration status.”
The resolution recognizes the Durham Police Department’s policy of not requesting documents for the sole purpose of determining a person’s civil immigration status and expands that policy to the rest of the municipal government.
The policy says, “Unless otherwise required as part of a City officer or employee’s duties, by law, or by court order, no Durham City officer or employee, during the course and scope of their employment, shall inquire into the immigration status of any person, or engage in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person.”
Durham Police follow the 2003 policy, a Durham Police Department representative said.
Carrboro town policy is not to detain illegal immigrants
In 2006, the town of Carrboro passed a resolution saying that the Carrboro Police Department will not seek to arrest a suspect based on possible civil immigration violations.
The resolution passed unanimously May 16, 2006 with no voting town members absent.
Under the resolution, “it shall be the policy of the Carrboro Police Department not to arrest or to take into custody persons when the sole basis for arresting or taking such persons into custody is that they have or may have committee a civil immigration violation.”