Politics & Government

Think Charlotte’s a ‘sanctuary city’? A complaint could cost city millions under plan.

Rocky River High students march in an immigration-related protest at Rocky River High School. Students walked around the building and then went inside to hear speeches in the auditorium.
Rocky River High students march in an immigration-related protest at Rocky River High School. Students walked around the building and then went inside to hear speeches in the auditorium. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

The city of Charlotte could lose $40 million if it’s found to be a de facto “sanctuary city” under a bill passed by a Senate committee Tuesday as the state waded deeper into the national debate over immigration.

Senate Bill 145 would allow any citizen with “a good-faith belief” that a city or county is not complying with state immigration law to file a complaint and trigger an investigation by the attorney general.

Any place found out of compliance would lose several revenue sources, including money for street repair and maintenance, for a year. For Charlotte that would amount to $40 million, according to city lobbyist Dana Fenton.

Sanctuary policies limit a city’s or county’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. Several cities have pledged to fight the Trump administration’s crackdown on sanctuary cities.

In lawsuits brought by the city of San Francisco and Santa Clara County, a federal judge on Tuesday blocked any attempt by the administration to withhold funding from sanctuary cities. U.S. District Judge William Orrick said that President Donald Trump cannot set new conditions for the federal grants at stake. And even if he could, the conditions would have to be clearly related to the funds at issue and not coercive.

A 2015 North Carolina law prohibits sanctuary cities, though critics say some localities have come close.

Last month some GOP lawmakers criticized the Winston-Salem City Council’s “Welcoming City” resolution, which says the city should take “additional and appropriate lawful steps … to reinforce our commitment to providing a safe and welcoming environment to immigrants.” Critics called it a sanctuary city resolution.

Tuesday’s committee debate elicited passionate feelings about immigrants and the law. Democratic Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham said the bill could “unleash a vigilante” crackdown on immigrants.

Turning to McKissick, Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman, a co-sponsor of the measure, said if a city wants to be a sanctuary, “I would say they’re OK with harboring these criminals and having them come back and killing people.”

That brought a rebuke from Dr. Alison Stuebe, an obstetrician at UNC-Chapel Hill. She argued that the measure would hurt poor immigrant families.

“I have heard these people referred to as criminals,” she told the committee. “These are my patients.”

The tax revenues that could be lost to cities and counties found to be out of compliance amount to $350 million statewide. “I think it’s very important that folks around the state understand what it means to be not in compliance,” said Sen. Joel Ford, a Charlotte Democrat.

The bill allows any individual to trigger a state investigation with a complaint.

“I can’t help but believe that there will be an overwhelming avalanche of complaints,” McKissick said.

The Associated Press contributed.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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