Some Republican lawmakers say Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts’ comments on immigration could persuade officials that the city isn’t following state law – and cost more than $20 million.
They say her comments could lead to a perception that Charlotte is a de facto “sanctuary city,” a designation that could trigger the penalties.
“We here in Raleigh have to conclude that she wants Charlotte to be a sanctuary city,” Republican Rep. Andy Dulin, a former City Council member, said Wednesday. “I see no reason for the General Assembly not to conclude that.”
The flap comes as tension between immigrants and federal officials has risen across the country. Federal officials arrested more than 100 undocumented immigrants in the Carolinas last week as fears of deportation spread through Charlotte’s immigrant communities.
On Monday, Roberts said, “the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department does not enforce federal immigration laws or profile community members based on their immigration status.”
In an earlier campaign email, she called President Donald Trump’s executive order barring immigrants from seven mostly Muslim countries an “unconstitutional religious test.” She said Charlotte protected all its residents: “In spite of the … Executive Order, our city’s policies and practices will not change in fulfilling this mission.”
Roberts has also said that CMPD will work with federal authorities, as well as immigrants and refugees to maintain public safety. Police say the trust of those communities is essential.
Asked about state lawmakers’ concerns, Roberts said in a statement Wednesday: “Charlotte has never claimed to be a sanctuary city and we are in compliance with state and federal law related to immigration.”
“In Charlotte, we value and appreciate diversity, and we want our city to be welcoming and safe for all people at all times,” she said.
A bill introduced this month, called the “Citizens Protection Act of 2017,” calls for withholding some tax revenue from cities that violate state laws involving immigration enforcement. For Charlotte that could mean a loss of $21.1 million.
“There are members of the General Assembly that would determine whether cities are or are not sanctuary cities,” said Rep. Bill Brawley, a Matthews Republican. “That decision will not be made by the city itself. …
“It sounds to me like Jennifer is trying to make Charlotte a sanctuary city,” he added. “There’s enough tension between Charlotte and Raleigh already without creating more.”
The bill with the penalties first has to pass the General Assembly and be signed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Cooper could veto the bill, but the GOP-controlled legislature could override it.
Trump has threatened to withhold federal money from cities that don’t share information with the federal government about people in the country illegally. U.S. Rep Robert Pittenger, a Charlotte Republican, has said Trump’s order was aimed at “brazen local officials who openly flaunt federal law.”
Not ‘at odds’
A 2015 law signed by then-Gov. Pat McCrory says no city should bar law enforcement officials from collecting information on an individual’s immigration status or sharing that with federal officials. Charlotte officials say they’re in full compliance.
Some municipalities identify themselves as sanctuary cities. In those places, law enforcement officials are barred from asking about or sharing information about immigration status. That’s not the case in Charlotte.
A week ago, Republican Ed Driggs asked city staff whether anyone in the General Assembly could interpret the city’s position as that of a sanctuary city. City Attorney Bob Hagemann said he believed no one could.
“We don’t feel that the idea of being a welcoming place and being in compliance with state and federal laws are at odds,” Driggs said Wednesday.
But some GOP lawmakers from Mecklenburg County say Roberts’ comments blur the issue.
“I understand them not wanting people not to report criminality,” said Sen. Dan Bishop. “On the other hand I do wonder about sending signals that could be misperceived as a challenge by somebody up here. … It’s a flashpoint. Why go there if you can avoid it?”
Rep. Scott Stone, a Charlotte Republican, said, “Jennifer Roberts continues to make statements as if she doesn’t want to comply with federal law. That sends a message that she wants Charlotte to be a sanctuary city.”
Making it ‘crystal clear’
A 2015 city resolution said CMPD would not inquire about a person’s immigration status nor act on information that led them to believe someone was in the country illegally.
But after House Bill 318 passed that year, the city was forced to change some of its written policies on immigration.
An example of the old language is in CMPD’s citizens handbook from February 2016. “Officers do not inquire about the immigration status of a victim or others they encounter,” it said, “unless the person has committed a serious crime or is being investigated for the commission of a serious crime.”
In July 2016, CMPD changed the handbook. “CMPD provides police services to everyone in this community regardless of their immigration status,” it said.
Council member Julie Eiselt, a Democrat, has said she wants CMPD to reassure immigrants that police are not looking for people in the country illegally. And Police Chief Kerr Putney appeared in a recent video in which he sought to assure that the department is complying with immigration laws as well as reaching out to communities affected by them.
“I’d like to make it crystal clear that CMPD does not enforce federal immigration laws, nor do we profile community members based on their immigration status. Period,” he said.
“Laws dictate that CMPD cannot prohibit officers from sharing information regarding a person’s citizenship or immigration status with the federal government. However … in order to be successful it is critical to maintain trust between our organization and all communities that we serve.”