It should be noted that ‘sanctuary city’ is not a legal designation, but rather a term used to describe a municipality that institute policies that forbid or defund enforcement of federal immigration laws, keeping city employees from asking about a person’s immigration status. The first city in the United States that adopted policies in line with the above description was Los Angles in 1979, passing Special Order 40: "Officers shall not initiate police action with the objective of discovering the alien status of a person. Officers shall not arrest nor book persons for violation of title 8, section 1325 of the United States Immigration code (Illegal Entry)."
One of the central arenas for this debate in recent months has been in the Republican primary, with candidates Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush both sounding off on the issue, and defending themselves from being attacked on it. Several cities and towns in Florida have been labeled as Sanctuary Cities, either by themselves or by watchdog groups, with Miami and surrounding municipalities being the most prominent.
Cruz and Rubio co-sponsored a Senate Bill that would take funds away from cities that put up barriers preventing staff and law enforcement from enacting federal immigration policy, and was debated on the Senate floor this past October.
“Kate Steinle's murder tragically exposed the dangers of an inconsistent and ineffectual immigration enforcement policy, which encourages flagrant violations of our laws,” Rubio said in a press release. “We need to fix our broken immigration system, but we can't do it as long as the belief persists that our immigration laws can be violated without any consequences.”
Bush came under criticism earlier in October by fellow Republican candidate Donald Trump for allowing Sanctuary Cities to exist during his Governorship.
“The state of Florida had sanctuary cities while Jeb Bush was governor,” Trump said in a recent speech. “Nobody said anything.” However, due to the sometimes murky status of what constitutes a Sanctuary City, this claim is in dispute. Many of the lists of sanctuary cities are released by third party organizations such as the Center of Immigration Studies, and the accuracy of the their reports are difficult to confirm or deny. Sheriffs of several towns and counties have disputed their inclusion on them. The areas contending their sanctuary status include Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pascos, and Hernando counties.
The Mayor of Miami, Tomás Regalado, has been less vehement in the denial of his city being a sanctuary city, with website Politifact quoting him back in July saying local officials neither “protect immigrants or deliver immigrants” to the Federal Government.
However, the state of North Carolina is making a crystal clear move against these cities.
Last Wednesday, on October 25, North Carolina’s Republican governor Pat McCrory signed House Bill 318 into law that would bar any municipality or county government within the state from adopting ordinances that would prevent local officials’ abilities to work with federal immigration agents. Also called the Protect North Carolina Workers Act, it was passed by the North Carolina legislature at the end of September.
“I understand we are a nation of immigrants and a strong immigrant community is essential to our state,” McCrory said after signing the bill. “Each immigrant arriving here legally and following our laws is a blessing to our state. We have this scourge of human trafficking; primarily young women who are being take advantage of. By enforcing the law, we can help find a deal with the some of these cartels.”
"Each individual arriving here in a legal manner, following our laws, in search of a better life is a blessing to our state and to our country,” McCrory said later at the Guilford County Sheriff's Office. “We want to continue that strength of our great country, but in doing so, we must follow the law and not tie the hands of the men and women behind me. We're going to enforce the law and help our law enforcement officers protect our citizens."
The bill has been controversial within the state, with both proponents and detractors lining up to give their views both before and after its passage. On the weekend prior to the bill being signed, groups of people protested outside the Executive Mansion during an Adopt-a-Pet gathering, voicing concerns on how the law will impact not only the immigrant community, but also the working class. Organizations including the North Carolina AFL-CIO and ACLU echoed these sentiments.
"Immigrants play important roles in our communities and economy,” executive director of the North Carolina ACLU Sarah Preston said in a statement. “Laws like this encourage discrimination, send the message that North Carolina is unwelcoming and make it harder for law enforcement officers to do their job keeping all members of the community safe."
"Signing an abusive law dishonestly named the ‘Protect North Carolina Workers Act’ is proof for any voter who still needed it that their governor cannot be trusted to defend working people," secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO MaryBe McMillan also said in a statement.
However, many others stated that the passage of the law would make the people of their state safer, as well as help the economy.
"Illegal immigration is hurting our unemployment rate. Let’s begin to fix our State E-Verify law and sign HB 318 into law,” read a statement by immigration reform group NC Listen. “Sanctuary cities are putting our public safety and homeland security at risk."
In addition to North Carolina’s action, and the possibility that the US Senate could move forward with their own legislation, another state is looking to curb the growth of sanctuary cities within its borders. Texas Governor Greg Abbott spoke out on the subject in late October, voicing his support for legislation that would leave police unhindered to ask for person’s immigration status.
"Texas must pass laws that prohibit any policy or action like yours that promotes sanctuary to people in this state illegally," Abbott stated in letter sent to Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. Earlier in the year, Valdez informed the state that the Dallas jail won’t extend stays in the facility for those suspected of minor crimes just because they were illegal immigrants.
Any future laws going against sanctuary city ordinances in Texas face a tough road. Despite Republican control of nearly all levels of the state’s government, including both houses of the State Legislature, bills aimed at these municipal ordinances have failed in three straight legislative sessions.
By Trent Townsend