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What Charlotte Can (And Can't) Do To Help Local Immigrants

Nick de la Canal
The Latin American Coalition launched a "Family Defense Network" in February to connect local immigrants with legal aid and other resources. Now, the city is looking for similar solutions the help immigrant residents.

How should Charlotte react to the recent immigration raids in North Carolina? What should be done? And what actually can be done?

Those are questions city leaders are asking themselves and the public at a series of community meetings around the city this month. 

The city's immigration committee, led by council member Larken Egleston, is hoping to come up with a few suggestions to present to the full city council in April.

Committee members say they'll be keeping an open mind to suggestions these next few weeks. While we don't know what the final proposal will include, we do know what other cities have done when faced with similar concerns.

[Related Content: Council Members: Should CMPD Have Called Off Checkpoint After ICE Roundup?]

As the city debates its next moves, let's look at ideas that have been presented elsewhere:

  • Pass a "Sanctuary city" ordinance: San Francisco passed its "City and County Refuge" act in 1989, which prohibits city employees and city funds from aiding in federal immigration enforcement. A similar resolution in Charlotte could prohibit city employees, including police officers, from reporting unauthorized immigrants to ICE or assisting in ICE arrests. The city could even ban city employees from inquiring about a person's immigration status (something CMPD says its officers already do not do). However, doing so would likely violate a 2015 state law, and invite lawsuits from the state.
  • Set up an ICE/immigration hotline: Local governments in Santa Clara County, CA, and New York City have teamed up with advocacy groups to create immigration hotlines. Residents who see ICE agents in the community call the number, and operators help determine if the agents are, in fact, with ICE, and inform callers of their rights. Callers might also get connected to legal help or other resources. Some advocacy groups in Charlotte have already set up similar hotlines, though the city has not been involved.
  • Promote "community IDs": City leaders had previously floated the idea creating "municipal IDs" as a way for unauthorized immigrants to receive city and county services and identify themselves to police if they're pulled over, or are reporting a crime. However, municipal IDs have since been outlawed by the state General Assembly. That said, the law does not prevent advocacy groups from issuing their own "community IDs" (the Latin American Coalition hosts ID clinics a few times a year) and under a provision in the law, police can accept these community IDs if no other ID is present. The city could decide to promote those community IDs and encourage police officers to accept them from immigrants with no other valid documentation. Health clinics, hospitals, schools, and even banks could also be encouraged to accept the IDs.
  • Offer city grants to immigrant-serving organizations: Some cities have a dedicated fund for organizations serving local immigrants. Notably, Washington D.C. has set aside $500,000 in community grants for local organizations that assist immigrants seeking green cards, work permits, DACA applications or legal representation in deportation or other immigration proceedings. 
  • Expand outreach and education initiatives: Among the top 10 concerns identified by a 2015 Charlotte immigration task force was the need for "equal access to information on services and resources," as well as "help with language barrier/interpreters." The city could host more outreach events for local immigrants, or even create a new bilingual office of immigrant affairs - something suggested by the 2015 task force. The city could also fund more immigrant-focused public art, or look for other ways to embed immigrant culture in everyday life.

Something of note: If city leaders do implement one or more of these measures, they could risk angering Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly, who have made clear their distaste for so-called "sanctuary cities."
President Donald Trump has also threatened to withhold federal funding from "sanctuary cities," although his executive order on the matter (Executive Order 13768) remains tied up in the courts. 

Credit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Cooperate More Fully With ICE

On the other hand, city leaders could decide to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement in cracking down on the city's unauthorized immigrant population (estimated at around 100,000 according to a recent Pew study).

The city could draft a resolution that requires city employees, including police officers, to report unauthorized immigrants to ICE, and encourage the police department to partner with ICE agents when carrying out raids in the city.

ICE officials have said they want Mecklenburg County to reinstate its 287(g) program, which allows ICE to detain unauthorized immigrants brought to the county jail, usually on misdemeanor or felony charges. 

Mecklenburg County's newly-elected sheriff, Garry McFadden, withdrew from the voluntary program in December, and while city council can't force him to reinstate the program, it could pass a resolution supporting its return.

Meet Halfway Or Do Nothing

The third option is for the city to take no action, or take a limited approach.

That might look something like the statement issued by Mayor Vi Lyles earlier this month that expressed support for local immigrants but stopped short of calling for concrete changes or reforms.

[Related Content: In Response To Critics, Mayor Lyles Releases Letter On Immigration]

The city says it's waiting to hear input from residents before deciding what to do. Residents who are interested in weighing in are encouraged to attend one or more of the city's upcoming listening/information sessions. 

The Full Schedule Of The City Meetings