Politics & Government

NC Senate debates funding cuts to immigration ‘sanctuary cities’

Sen. Norman Sanderson speaks on a measure concerning "sanctuary cities" for illegal migrants in the Senate chambers at the N.C General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2015.
Sen. Norman Sanderson speaks on a measure concerning "sanctuary cities" for illegal migrants in the Senate chambers at the N.C General Assembly on Sept. 24, 2015. cseward@newsobserver.com

State Senate Republicans tried Tuesday to speed action on a proposal to cut off school and road construction money to local governments with immigration “sanctuary city” policies.

Sen. Norman Sanderson, a Pamlico County Republican, filed a bill in May to penalize local governments that prevent law enforcement officers from asking about a suspect’s immigration status or sharing immigration information with federal authorities.

That bill was assigned to three committees and hasn’t yet received a hearing in any of them. So on Tuesday, Sanderson tacked the provisions to a noncontroversial House bill about jury duty records.

The jury duty-immigration combination bill passed a Senate committee minutes after it was introduced – drawing opposition from Democrats – and could be on the Senate floor later this week.

“We have to decide whether North Carolina is a rule of law state,” Sanderson said. “If you have one municipality adhering to one law, and you’ve got another adhering to another law, what you’ve got is chaos.”

A state law approved last year banned sanctuary city policies, but it didn’t include penalties for governments that don’t comply. Sanderson said he’s heard reports that the policies are still in effect, including “seven or eight counties” that recognize ID cards issued by nonprofit groups to immigrants here illegally.

A group called FaithAction says it has issued thousands of IDs with support from the Greensboro Police Department. FaithAction’s website says it “can be used by law enforcement as a helpful tool for identification, and may be accepted by city agencies, schools, health centers, and businesses, depending on the policy of each institution.”

Sanderson said cities and counties don’t have the authority to decide what qualifies as an acceptable photo ID card.

“This is not the proper way to do it,” he said, calling on local leaders and law enforcement to work with the legislature if alternative IDs are needed. “If this is going to be an acceptable method, it needs to be a statewide acceptable method.”

But Sen. Terry Van Duyn, an Asheville Democrat, said she worries that immigrants without ID might be less likely to call police when they’re victims of a crime.

“I’m wondering if we’re going to make law enforcement ask victims for a photo ID,” she said. “How does that make our community safer?”

Sanderson’s bill would put the state attorney general’s office in charge of investigating sanctuary city violations. The office would develop an anonymous tip form and review possible violations within 45 days.

If a city or county is found in violation of immigration laws, it would lose a full year of state funding for school construction projects and local street projects. If it’s still in violation after 60 days, it would lose a second year of funding.

Some Democrats voiced concerns about that process. “I actually believe that this bill (gives) too much power to the attorney general’s office,” said Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Raleigh Democrat. He noted that state funding allocations are typically handled through the state treasurer’s office.

Others questioned how cities and counties would be able to appeal the attorney general’s ruling. Ben Stanley, a legislative staff attorney who helped with the bill, said he wasn’t sure.

“I can’t tell you exactly what the appeal would look like,” he said. “We’re not dealing with individuals but with local governments. It’s not clear what their constitutional rights are.”

The N.C. League of Municipalities didn’t yet have a formal position on the bill Tuesday, and its lobbyist said she hadn’t seen it before the committee meeting.

“We’ve heard from our folks that they want to comply,” lobbyist Sarah Collins said. “We would love in the future to work at the table to try to get that fixed.”

League spokesman Scott Mooneyham said later Tuesday that municipalities are following the law. “Tying (state street funding) dollars to a law unrelated to street construction and maintenance appears unprecedented and would penalize local taxpayers in ways that have nothing to do with the issue,” he said.

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter