Immigration Intricacies: Your Guide to Sanctuary Cities

By Andrew Soboeiro

Immigration affects us all, so it’s no surprise that every level of government seeks to make its voice heard on the topic. This is never more clear than with “sanctuary” cities, or local governments that offer some level of refuge to undocumented immigrants. Sanctuary cities play a key role in how immigration policy works on the ground, making it essential for US residents of all backgrounds to understand them.

What is a Sanctuary City?

While there is no universal definition, “sanctuary city” generally refers to local governments that limit their cooperation with efforts to deport undocumented immigrants. Such governments typically instruct their police not to actively investigate individuals’ immigration status or arrest anyone based solely on that status. They also frequently refuse to hand over to Federal authorities undocumented immigrants who are taken into custody for minor offenses, such as driving a car without a valid license. Most make exceptions, however, for felons and those who have previously been deported.

The term “sanctuary city” is something of a misnomer, as every level of government can adopt sanctuary policies. According to the New York Times, there are currently 633 county governments that offer sanctuary to the undocumented. There are also five states that have adopted sanctuary policies: California, Oregon, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont.

Like most issues relating to immigration, sanctuary policies are politically controversial. Critics argue that they interfere with the Federal government’s authority over immigration and that they expose citizens to crimes committed by the undocumented.  Supporters counter that places with sanctuary policies actually have less crime than those without them, as such policies make undocumented immigrants more likely to cooperate with the police in solving crimes. They thus give law enforcement the resources it needs to keep citizens safe.

 Are There Sanctuary Cities in North Carolina?

While no local governments in the Tar Heel State have officially labeled themselves “sanctuaries,” at least five have adopted policies that effectively put them into this category. These are:

  • Asheville In a 2013 ordinance, the Asheville City Council stated that it “does not actively participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law.” It also banned discrimination on the basis of immigration status.
  • Carrboro - Since 2006, Carrboro has  forbidden its police department from arresting or detaining anyone based solely on immigration status.
  • Chapel Hill - In early 2007, the Town of Chapel Hill adopted a resolution “not to arrest or take into custody persons when the sole basis for arresting or taking such persons into custody is that they have or may have committed a civil immigration violation.”
  • Charlotte - The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has a directive not to “undertake immigration-related investigations [or] inquire into the immigration status of persons encountered during police operations.”
  • Durham - One of the first cities in North Carolina to adopt sanctuary policies, Durham passed the following resolution in 2003: “Unless otherwise required as part of a City officer or employee’s duties, by law, or by court order, no Durham City officer or employee, during the course and scope of their employment, shall inquire into the immigration status of any person, or engage in activities designed to ascertain the immigration status of any person.”

From visas to green cards to sanctuary cities, Vigoda Law Firm breaks down all the finer points of US immigration law. For in-depth information and legal support, contact us today at 919-307-7817.