Politics & Government

Think Charlotte’s a ‘sanctuary city’? Your complaint could cost the city millions.

Immigration protesters march to city council

Immigration protesters march front m Marshall Park to the Charlotte City Council meeting on Monday.
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Immigration protesters march front m Marshall Park to the Charlotte City Council meeting on Monday.

Is Charlotte a “sanctuary city?” A complaint by a single person who claims it is could cost the city around $40 million a year.

That’s the bottom line of a bill discussed Tuesday in a House committee.

Under House Bill 63, anyone could file a complaint claiming that a local government is violating the state’s “sanctuary city” law. That law makes it a crime for a city to direct law enforcement officials not to collect information about a person’s immigration status or not to share it with federal enforcement agencies.

If upheld by the state attorney general, the complaint would trigger millions in penalties.

The bill – called the Citizens Protection Act of 2017 – is one of at least three measures that would penalize cities or counties for violating the sanctuary law.

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.

But last month some legislative Republicans said comments by Democratic Mayor Jennifer Roberts could persuade some lawmakers that Charlotte is a de facto sanctuary city, not complying with federal immigration law.

Roberts had said, “the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department does not enforce federal immigration laws or profile community members based on their immigration status.”

At the time, GOP Rep. Andy Dulin, a former City Council member, said, “We here in Raleigh have to conclude that she wants Charlotte to be a sanctuary city.”

Under the bill co-sponsored by Republican Rep. Harry Warren of Rowan County, violating the sanctuary city law could cost cities or counties money from the beer and wine excise tax, certain sales taxes and other revenues including the so-called Powell Bill funds, which are used for transportation projects. For Charlotte, the loss would total about $40 million.

Warren’s bill would allow any person to file a complaint with the state attorney general. The attorney general would have 45 days to launch an investigation and 60 days to finish it. A ruling against the city or county would trigger the loss of tax revenue.

Immigrant advocates, meanwhile, opposed the bill. Dana Mangum, executive director of the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, argued that the measure could dissuade victims of crime from coming forth.

Matt Gross, policy director for N.C. Child, said the loss of revenue to cities or counties could hurt public investments in things such as schools or libraries that benefit children regardless of immigration status.

But a Caldwell County woman recounted the story of a car accident that killed her brother. The driver of the other vehicle was an undocumented immigrant charged with DWI who later managed to flee the country.

The bill faces a possible committee vote next week.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill