The Donald Trump administration could challenge Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police’s lenient policy toward undocumented people, and it’s unclear how the department might respond to the president-elect’s campaign promises.
Trump has said he would deport any illegal immigrant with a criminal record, which he said could be up to 3 million people. During the campaign, he said he would deport all undocumented workers, which would be roughly 11 million people.
In the summer of 2015, then-Charlotte police chief Rodney Monroe told City Council that enforcing federal immigration law was not part of CMPD’s mission.
Monroe was discussing a civil rights resolution, which stated that CMPD officers would not ask about a suspect’s immigration status during routine police work.
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The resolution went further: During the course of an investigation, an officer might be told or learn a person is in the country illegally. CMPD’s position was to refrain from reporting them to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, except in cases of a gang or terrorism.
The department’s policy – which was approved by the City Council – led some to designate Charlotte a “sanctuary city,” a moniker the city disputed.
At the time, Monroe said it was important for people to feel comfortable talking with police as witnesses or people with information. Kerr Putney, the current chief, also agreed with that approach.
Monroe said it wasn’t CMPD’s job to enforce federal tax laws, and he said it wasn’t the department’s job to enforce immigration laws either.
City Council passed the resolution unanimously, including yes votes from the council’s two Republicans, Kenny Smith and Ed Driggs.
How will cities respond?
Big-city Democratic mayors nationwide have said they will not cooperate with the Trump administration on deporting undocumented people, even though the president-elect has threatened to cut funding for so-called “sanctuary cities.”
What could Trump’s administration do if cities don’t cooperate? Jennifer Gordon, a law professor at Fordham University in New York who specializes in immigration, said it’s likely the Trump administration would use a stick rather than a carrot to try to get cities to comply.
She said Trump would be able to eliminate some discretionary law enforcement funding to cities, though he might need congressional approval to cut all federal funding to “sanctuary cities.” Other funds could include money Charlotte receives for transit, for instance.
“Any given city’s fear will depend on a) how strongly it holds the view that undocumented immigrants should have access to city services; b) how much the city relies on federal funds; and c) what other cities end up doing,” Gordon said.
Trump’s election has already produced a backlash among some in U.S. law enforcement. The chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Charlie Beck, said his officers would not help the Trump administration deport immigrants.
CMPD spokesperson Rob Tufano said Wednesday that the department has not made any changes in its policy.
Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts opened the Nov. 14 council meeting by stating she recognizes the “uncertainty” and “anxiety” many people are feeling since Trump’s victory.
Roberts declined to comment about how Trump might affect CMPD’s immigration policies.
CMPD, sheriff differ
Local law enforcement is mixed when it comes to how aggressively it treats illegal immigrants.
CMPD’s more lenient position differs from that of the Mecklenburg Sheriff’s Office, which administers the county’s jail.
Ten years ago, the sheriff’s office became the first law enforcement agency east of Phoenix to participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s 287(g) program, in which all non-U.S. born arrestees are checked for being a “potentially removable alien.”
Four other N.C. counties have similar agreements with ICE – Wake, Cabarrus, Gaston and Henderson counties.
“We have no reason to believe there will be any changes to the 287(g) program in the short term,” said Mecklenburg Sheriff Irwin Carmichael in a statement last week. “We will have to wait and see how the Trump administration impacts 287(g).”
CMPD’s civil rights resolution from 2015 also prompted the General Assembly to pass House Bill 318, which nullified what the Republican legislature said were “sanctuary city” ordinances – a clear reference to Charlotte.
Much of HB 318 focused on prohibiting cities like Charlotte from creating so-called “municipal IDs,” which some in CMPD had favored.
The law also said cities “cannot prohibit law enforcement from gathering, or direct law enforcement not to gather, information regarding the citizenship or immigration status of any person.”
That nullified part of CMPD’s civil rights ordinance that dealt with immigration. HB 318, however, does not require local police officers to inquire about the immigration status of people they encounter.
The upshot: If it’s CMPD’s policy not to make immigration enforcement a priority, the General Assembly has made it impossible to say so.
Hector Vaca, the Charlotte director for Action NC, said he believes CMPD at times engages in profiling during its traffic stops.
“They are in predominately Latino neighborhoods, and they claim to be random, but they aren’t,” he said. CMPD officials couldn’t be reached for a response.
But Vaca said the biggest problem for undocumented workers and children is the Sherrif’s 287(g) program rather than CMPD.
“We are concerned about the police, but we know that with all of the problems that have happened recently, the police have started to be a little more cognizant of what’s going on,” he said. “We know that Charlotte is welcoming enough.”