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NC Senate committee clears bill punishing sanctuary city policies

Protesters gather outside terminal two at RDU Airport Sunday in response to President Donald Trump's executive order banning immigrants from certain countries from entering the U.S.

Protesters gather outside terminal two at RDU Airport Sunday in response to President Donald Trump's executive order banning immigrants from certain countries from entering the U.S.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Carteret, would withhold tax dollars from cities and universities that don’t comply with federal immigration laws and would prohibit UNC institutions from becoming sanctuary universities. A similar bill was sent to the House’s Finance Committee in March.

Sarah Gillooly, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina, said the bill would infringe on the privacy rights of community members — and violates federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

“State lawmakers should not be in the business of telling local officials to target and single out undocumented North Carolinians who work, go to school and contribute to our communities in countless ways,” Gillooly said.

UNC Chancellor Carol Folt said in December students’ immigration status is protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and the University has defended students in the past.

“It also is important to know our UNC police department does not gather information about citizenship or immigration status, and only makes inquiries about individuals who are the subject of a felony criminal investigation,” she said.

Ron Woodard, director of NC Listen, an immigration reform advocacy group, said in an email the bill encourages cities considering sanctuary policies to think twice.

“First to obey our laws and secondly to think about the negative consequences of illegal immigration to our nation and especially how it affects low-skilled citizens who witness jobs lost or their wages reduced again due to mass illegal immigration,” he said.

Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said a 2015 law already barred cities from becoming sanctuary cities.

“This new piece of legislation is trying to put a punishment along with that law, but no one has proven there’s a problem that exists,” she said.

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, said all of Orange County has de-emphasized immigration enforcement. He said communities could become less safe without faith in the police.

“When you can’t depend on law enforcement, you have unsafe things go unchecked or people take justice into their own hands,” he said.

But Dave Ray, spokesperson for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said sanctuary policies aren’t necessary to build trust with immigrant communities.

“Police departments use discretion all the time, and if someone is coming to the police because they are a victim of a crime, their immigration status will not be questioned,” he said.

Ray said economic sanctions can be effective motivators.

“The bill’s sponsor obviously understands that going after the purse strings of communities is the way to get their attention because it’s worked elsewhere in the country on the federal level,” he said.

Hemminger said she hopes local funding would not be affected.

“The funds they’re talking about withholding would be substantial to Chapel Hill,” she said. “So I’ve been encouraging citizens to show up, stand up and speak up to the Governor.”

Meyer said the bill also makes the political climate more hostile for immigrants.

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“Even for some legal immigrants, they are feeling there is a spillover effect where people are being suspicious of anyone who is an immigrant and beginning to treat them badly,” he said. “Bills like this contribute to that.”