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While Not Official Policy, Mayor Roberts Discourages CMPD From Asking Immigration Status

About 20 Charlotte area residents, including immigrants, came together outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center to protest actions by ICE agents in recent days.
John D. Simmons
Charlotte Observer
About 20 Charlotte area residents, including immigrants, came together outside the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center to protest actions by ICE agents in recent days.

Charlotte city leadersreleased a statement Friday that put it plainly: "Regarding sanctuary cities, although there is no agreed upon legal definition of what a sanctuary city is, Charlotte is not one." In recent interviews, however, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts has been offering a more nuanced view.

The city's statement was presumably meant to quell fears that Charlotte might be targeted by President Donald Trump's executive order cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities, which is defined loosely as cities who refuse to work with federal immigration officials to combat illegal immigration.

The executive order signed by Trump last month punishes local governments that fail to comply with federal authorities by withholding a number of federal funds.

City council members publicly fretted at this week's city council meeting, calling in city attorney Bob Hagemann to assure them the city would be unaffected by the executive order.

The Charlotte Observer reported Hagemann told them they had nothing to fear. The city was in full compliance with state and federal law, and he "doesn't see how" anyone could define Charlotte as a sanctuary city. For example, the city does not prohibit police officers from sharing a person's citizenship or immigration status with the federal government, nor does it prohibit officers from asking someone about their immigration status, as some other so-called sanctuary cities do.

But Mayor Roberts tried to strike a counterbalance to that in an interview Thursday, appearing totell WFAE's Charlotte Talks she encouraged police to employ an unofficial "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

"The state law says that a city cannot prohibit police officers from asking immigration status," Roberts said, "but it does not say that they have to."

She said public safety was a "two-way street" and that it was important for immigrants to trust police so they would feel comfortable calling them when there's a crime and identifying themselves as witnesses.

"If we have police who are acting as federal agents and going in, proactively saying, 'What's your immigration status?' that makes it less safe for everyone," Roberts said.

Roberts said she wants police officers to build trust with immigrant communities as much as possible while staying within the confines of the law.

Her comments followed a number social media reports circulating in Charlotte's immigrant community over the weekend claiming that ICE had been conducting raids and setting up checkpoints in eastern parts of the city.

ICE has denied doing so, saying they do not conduct indiscriminate raids or sweeps. The organization said it does, however, target specific individuals previously identified as being in violation of immigration laws.

Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal