While most coverage by leading news outlets like WRAL News and the News & Observer made at least glancing reference to the law enforcement exception tacked onto the bill, the fact was largely lost in the mix of polarized rhetoric from both supporters and opponents. An Oct. 7 column by Susan Ladd in the Greensboro News & Record belatedly reported that the FaithAction ID remained valid, while a subsequent story in the paper later that month quoted a Greensboro police captain as suggesting otherwise.
It seems not to have suited the political purposes of opponents to acknowledge that the worst harm of the bill was mitigated, while conservatives may have been reluctant to admit they achieved anything less than a full victory.
An Oct. 28 article posted on the website of Rep. Rena Turner, a Republican lawmaker from Statesville, claimed erroneously that the bill “specifically prohibits the use of consulate or embassy documents (or other documents not issued by the state or federal government) for determining the identification or residency for law enforcement purposes.” Likewise, a group called North Carolinians for Immigration Reform and Enforcement that is dedicated to “stopping the flood of illegal aliens into North Carolina” reported that under the new law “ID cards created by cities, counties or religious organizations are no longer accepted forms of ID by NC law enforcement or local/state agencies.”
Coverage in the state’s Spanish-language media, whose audience critically depends on accurate reporting about immigration issues, conveyed a much clearer picture. Fluency in Spanish isn’t necessary to get the implications of front-page news photography showing smiling police officials in Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Asheboro either holding up FaithAction ID cards or answering questions during orientation sessions in rooms packed with hundreds of immigrants.
“In every article that we publish, we say, ‘You’re going to get a ticket because you’re breaking the law, because you’re driving without a license,’” Qué Pasa Executive Editor Ramirez-Santos said. “This [FaithAction ID] prevents the police from taking you to jail. But there’s still a possibility that you can go to jail if you lie to the officer. We try to explain in every article so that people can be as safe as possible.”
As the legislation awaited Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature, the partisan dimensions of North Carolina’s rural-urban divide came into further relief when Greensboro City Council passed a resolution opposing the bill by an 8-1 vote, with the council’s sole Republican dissenting.
The governor’s decision to sign the bill in Greensboro on Oct. 28 was read by many as a slap-down of the city’s liberal municipal government. The bill signing took place in the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, with Sheriff BJ Barnes, a longtime political ally and a popular Republican local elected official, seated at his right. Cleveland and Rep. Debra Conrad of Winston-Salem, another bill sponsor, were also on hand for the photo op, along with Rep. Jon Hardister of Greensboro.
Before putting pen to paper, McCrory railed against sanctuary cities, calling them a “breakdown” of order and “contrary to the oath every law enforcement officer and elected official” took “to uphold the Constitution.”
The governor’s language mixed alarm over crime with appeals to nativist resentment against undocumented immigrants on economic grounds.
“We have cartels; many of these are international cartels,” McCrory said. “We have gang violence that continues to go up, sometimes because of international gangs. We have schools that are becoming overcrowded. We have drug trafficking. We have hospital emergency-rooms that are flowing over with patients. And most and worst of all, we now have the scourge of human trafficking of primarily young women, who are being taken advantage of. And it’s an issue that this society and our state is not talking enough about.”
The governor’s rhetoric flew in the face of testimonials by the local police officers at the press conference at FaithAction a month earlier.
“Half of the homicides were domestic violence,” Greensboro police Capt. Mike Richey, head of the criminal investigation division, said at the time. “We have had people tell us: ‘We wouldn’t have come forward if we didn’t have the FaithAction ID.’ We’ve made arrests in a human trafficking case and a child exploitation case — which most everyone would agree is the most heinous type of crime — and those came to fruition because people cooperated with us.”
Whether he was aware of the amendment in the technical correction bill or not, McCrory made no mention of the provision in his remarks at the bill signing. The governor’s office did not respond to questions for this story before press time.
Some of the governor’s comments could have been construed as referencing either the ID restrictions or the E-verify provisions in the bill.
“There’s something else that we’re dealing with today, and that’s the verification of assuring that the people that are here, we know their true identity, just like other countries do when we visit their countries throughout the world,” McCrory said.
Barnes made a similar point in remarks during the bill signing.
“When I go to other countries I go legally and adhere to the laws,” he said. “Can we not, as the greatest nation in the world, expect others to do the same?”
If Barnes’ comparison between undocumented residents living and working in North Carolina with international tourists seemed confusing, he clarified in a later interview that what he said was exactly what he meant.
“They’re not here legally,” he said. “They’re not adhering to the rules. They’re not doing the things that a civilized, law-abiding person would do. Whenever I go to another country, the only way I go is legally. I don’t drive cars in other countries because I don’t have a driver’s license. I don’t attempt to vote over there. I don’t try to avail myself of their services other than what a normal tourist would receive.”
The fact that a passport reflects an undocumented person’s country of origin rather than their place of residence only underscores Barnes’ conviction that they shouldn’t be here in the first place.
“If that person doesn’t have any identification at all, that would be the same thing you’re talking about with the taillight situation: If that person is driving, aren’t they responsible for that car?” the sheriff asked. “That probably means they’re driving without a license and they’re driving without insurance. So they’ve broken three laws. Don’t you think they need to be here legally? You’re excusing bad behavior. Why are they driving without a driver’s license?”
Barnes said he was well aware of the exception carved out for law enforcement in the ID provision, but indicated he holds little confidence in the validity of the FaithAction ID.
“If they tell us and show us that identification, and that’s the only kind of identification we have, we’ll use it,” Barnes said. “Once we get them to jail we’ll try to identify who they truly are.”
Other local law enforcement agencies have indicated they are accepting the IDs.
Public Information Officer Susan Danielsen confirmed in early January that the Greensboro Police Department is accepting the IDs, while Winston-Salem police Lt. Tyrone Phelps said his department supports the IDs, while noting that officers may use their discretion to make an arrest for a minor traffic violation if they do not feel confident that they know the identity of the individual.
Despite his contention that undocumented immigrants are breaking the law by their very presence, Barnes said his agency will not deny them the service of public-safety protection.
“They get all the protection that they should require or need,” he said. “All they have to do is call. If someone calls me up or one of my officers and say, ‘We have been beaten up,’ we don’t go out there and ask them, ‘Are you here legally?’ That’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going to find the person who who beat them up and stole their property, and we’re going to arrest that person.”
Earlier in the month, the US Senate Democrats had blocked an effort to pass federal legislation banning so-called sanctuary cities. With McCrory’s signature, North Carolina became the first state in the union to do so, as Trump and other Republican presidential candidates stepped up their rhetoric against the concept. Just two days earlier, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott had issued a letter to Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez bluntly stating, “Sanctuary city policies like those promoted by your recent decision to implement your own case-by-case immigrant detention plan will no longer be tolerated in Texas.” Soon afterwards, Abbott vowed to pursue legislation outlawing sanctuary cities when the state legislature reconvenes in 2017. And the Wisconsin legislature is currently considering a similar measure.
Speaking at the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office, McCrory made it clear that he was well aware of the national implications of the new North Carolina law.
“We’re gonna find a way in North Carolina to find out a national solution for this very complex issue because we need to find one,” McCrory said. “We want to be the model of how to do things right in North Carolina and in our country.”
The term sanctuary cities has no legal meaning, but generally refers to local ordinances geared towards encouraging undocumented people to cooperate with law enforcement by providing assurance that they won’t be targeted for deportation if they report a crime or commit a minor traffic offense. Policies in cities across the country range from simply de-emphasizing immigration as a concern of local law enforcement, to outright refusal to cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
State Sen. Jerry Tillman of Randolph County offered up a list of so-called North Carolina sanctuary cities during the legislative debate in late September, as reported by North Carolina Public Radio.
“You want to start with Durham, Chapel Hill, Charlotte, Carrboro,” he said. “You know where those liberal bastions are. And if you have policies like that, who in the world could stand up and say, ‘That’s okay. We want to be a sanctuary city.’ We need to punish them. If I could, I’d take their charters.”
What passes for a sanctuary city policy in Carrboro, as an example, does not reference the term. The resolution, approved in May 2006, simply states that “it shall be the policy of the Carrboro Police Department 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.”