CORRECTIONS: Due to a reporting error, the original version of this story misrepresented the type of order enforced by federal immigration authorities. Federal immigration authorities would only arrest undocumented immigrants who already have a felony deportation order. Due to a reporting error, the story also misrepresented a person's immigration status. Immigration status is a civil matter. The story has been updated to reflect these changes.
A bill presented to the governor’s office Wednesday might allow police in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham to have more discretion when enforcing immigration policies.
The North Carolina General Assembly passed a ban on “sanctuary city” policies, which limit enforcement of immigration laws and locally issued IDs to noncitizens. Gov. Pat McCrory now has the option to sign the bill into law.
The bill’s supporters argue that local governments should not be able to opt out of federal laws. Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham are sanctuary cities, an unofficial status for cities that believe local government should not have a strong role in enforcing immigration policy.
Lt. Josh Mecimore, spokesperson for the Chapel Hill Police Department, said a person’s immigration status does not affect how an officer conducts his job.
A person’s immigration status is a civil matter, which local police forces do not have jurisdiction over.
“We don’t have the authority to enforce civil matters, only criminal orders,” Mecimore said. “We won’t ask for somebody’s immigration status unless it’s part of an ongoing investigation.”
Mecimore said the only undocumented immigrants who would be arrested for federal immigration authorities would be those who already have a felony deportation order.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said this bill would discourage undocumented immigrants from calling the police or engaging in the community, due to fear of being harassed or deported.
“Immigrants would come to see police as an unwelcome force creating a haven for crime,” Kleinschmidt said.
Carrboro Board of Aldermen member Sammy Slade said he does not support the bill.
“The legislature is led by a party centered on local control yet is overreaching into local government,” Slade said.
This bill would make it so local government could not influence the police department’s enforcement of immigration policies.
“No county may have in effect any policy, ordinance, or procedure that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law,” the bill states.
Slade said the most local government officials could do is ask the police department to report how they will conduct their duties. He said he hopes the police department will not change their procedures in light of this bill.
“In Carrboro we are very open and supportive of other people,” Slade said. “We’ve tried to make the town welcoming to immigrants.”
When asked how the bill could affect future police conduct, Mecimore said he does not have an answer yet.
“We are not well served by local resources for having to do a federal job,” Kleinschmidt said.
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