Battle brews over Winston-Salem’s proposed ‘welcoming city’ resolution

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Members of the Sanctuary City Coalition of Winston-Salem pose on the steps of City Hall. (courtesy photo)

Councilman Dan Besse’s “welcoming city” resolution doesn’t go far enough for members of the Sanctuary City Coalition of Winston-Salem, but conservative state lawmakers, including Rep. Debra Conrad (R-Forsyth) want to punish any city that doesn’t comply with federal immigration law.

With some residents looking to cities to draw a line to protect vulnerable immigrants and with conservative state lawmakers aligned with President Trump’s reactionary agenda promoting harsh penalties for noncompliance, Winston-Salem City Councilman Dan Besse is navigating a tricky middle path.

Besse’s proposed “welcoming city” resolution, which comes before city council’s general government committee on March 21, tiptoes around a 2015 state law that prohibits cities and counties from enacting so-called “sanctuary” ordinances.

“The welcoming city resolution is intended to let our residents know that we as a city welcome immigrants and refugees, that they are full parts of our community, and that we will do everything that we can within the law to keep our city a safe and welcoming environment for them,” Besse said. “It expressly states our opposition to discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin or ethnicity. It reconfirms our tradition of providing a safe community for refugees who are legally resettled in the United States.

“The resolution language recognizes that there is a national environment today of excessive fear and suspicion directed towards some immigrants and refugees,” Besse added. “My resolution would let our residents know that we do not support that political environment of hostility.”

North Carolina’s anti-sanctuary law deals with a subset of the newcomers addressed by Besse’s proposed resolution — unauthorized immigrants. The law prevents cities and counties from adopting ordinances to prohibit law enforcement agencies from collecting information about immigration status and sharing it with federal immigration authorities.

A new bill filed in early February — HB 63 — that is cosponsored by Rep. Debra Conrad, a Forsyth County Republican, would penalize cities and counties that fail to comply with the anti-sanctuary law, with provisions to have the attorney general investigate complaints and withhold state funds.

Only one paragraph of Besse’s draft resolution addresses residents’ immigration status.

“The city of Winston-Salem recognizes that our whole community is safer when victims and witnesses of domestic violence or criminal activity feel safe in contacting our police for assistance without fear, regardless of their immigration status,” it reads.

The clause is simply a statement of fact, Besse said, noting that it doesn’t tell the police what to do.

Under Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order on immigration enforcement, the primary tool for engaging local law enforcement in immigration functions is a program known as 287(g) that was originally activated under the administration of President George W. Bush. The executive order directs the secretary of homeland security to recruit states, counties and municipalities to sign up for 287(g), but participation remains voluntary. The city of Winston-Salem is not currently participating in 287(g) and Besse said city officials have no intentions of signing on.

Forsyth County Sheriff Bill Schatzman, who is responsible for operating the county jail and managing patrols in rural and suburban areas that lack their own police services, has also passed up the opportunity to join 287(g). Assistant County Attorney Lonnie Albright, who advises the sheriff’s office, said in late January that Schatzman is not considering participation in the program.

Hana Brown, who teaches sociology at Wake Forest University and is active in efforts to support the immigrant community in the Triad, said the Trump administration is looking to local law enforcement as a force multiplier to extend its relatively limited number Immigration Customs Enforcement, or ICE, agents.

“If the Trump administration’s going to be able to manage a mass deportation, they’re going to be using these 287(g) agreements,” Brown said during a teach-in at UNCG in Greensboro on Sunday.

The Bush administration ramped up the use of 287(g) around 2007. Brown characterized that implementation as “disastrous,” adding that the program didn’t fulfill its original purpose.

“The original goal of these agreements was to get local jurisdictions to help apprehend and remove threatening, criminal undocumented immigrants,” Brown said. “The idea was we’re going to take people already convicted of a crime who were supposed to be deported already but haven’t been deported yet. But that’s not what happened on the ground. What happened on the ground was that this 287(g) program was mostly used to arrest and deport people who had really minor infractions. And when I say ‘minor,’ I mean driving with one broken taillight.”

Both the Winston-Salem Police Department and Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office participate in a program managed by the Greensboro nonprofit FaithAction International House which provides law enforcement with the option of accepting alternative IDs instead of booking undocumented immigrants for minor traffic offenses and putting them at risk of deportation.

While acknowledging that state law prohibits the city from instructing the police to not ask residents about their status, Councilman Besse said it isn’t necessary because the police don’t need be told to not target undocumented immigrants

Chief Barry Rountree said in a Jan. 30 memo to Mayor Allen Joines and members of city council: “Members of the WSPD do not ask immigration status, initiate immigration roundups or gather immigration status information during the course of providing law enforcement services,”

As another tool for cajoling cooperation, Trump’s executive order instructs the secretary of homeland security to create a weekly “Declined Detainer Outcome Report” to shame local law enforcement agencies by publicizing “a comprehensive list of criminal actions committed by aliens and any other jurisdiction that ignored or otherwise failed to honor any detainers with respect to such aliens.”

Albright said that as a rule, the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office does not hold unauthorized immigrants on ICE detainers for more than 48 hours.

“I do recall that if we receive an ICE detainer on someone, that ICE is notified that they have 48 hours to pick up that person,” he said in a recent email. “If they fail to do so, then the person is released on whatever terms the state court has ordered — that is to say bond, written appearance or the like. The sheriff doesn’t keep them beyond the 48-hour requirement. To do so, I believe would constitute a due-process problem and perhaps more.”

Since mid-December a group of residents who call themselves the Sanctuary City Coalition of Winston-Salem have been lobbying the city to adopt a resolution declaring itself a sanctuary city. Will Cox, a member of the coalition, said the group isn’t endorsing Besse’s “welcoming city” resolution, but they see it as a step in the right direction.

But the resolution has also attracted criticism from other residents.

Reginald Reid, who was recently elected secretary of the Forsyth County Republican Party, charged in a Facebook message to Triad City Beat that Besse’s resolution “would provide a protective blanket for human trafficking and exploitation.”

That premise has been contradicted by Greensboro police Capt. Mike Richey, who told reporters in 2015 that residents have told the police that they wouldn’t have come forward if they didn’t have the FaithAction ID — implying that the assurance that they wouldn’t be deported gave them the confidence to talk to police. Richey said that as a result the police were able to make arrests in a human-trafficking and child-exploitation case.

Both opponents of Besse’s “welcoming city” resolution and those who would like it to go further reached back to the Civil War era for comparisons that illustrate their sense of alarm.

“Quite frankly [the “welcoming city” resolution] is a return to slavery and Jim Crow,” Reid said. “We are bringing people here to do work supposedly Americans will not do and their mistreatment is sanctioned by the government. And didn’t certain states about 1860 or early 1861 seek to nullify federal laws preventing human exploitation?”

Cox of the Sanctuary City Coalition reached back further for a comparison to HB 63 and other legislation proposed by Republican lawmakers that would penalize cities for trying to protect unauthorized immigrants.

“They look like something you would have seen in pre-Civil War times like the Fugitive Slave Act,” he said. “If you try to help a fellow human being it’s like you’ve committed a crime. This is a time when if you sit on the fence you’ve made a decision. People will be hurt if you don’t act.”

  • Snarky McGurk

    Illegal is illegal. Besse et al. are nuts and should be removed.

  • Mark Key

    Play by the same rules as the rest of us or you can get out. Those laws are there for a reason and our elected buffoons aren’t hired to dictate policy. They should be protecting our legal citizens but instead they can’t seem to turn Winston into a cesspool quick enough. If these clowns don’t understand the meaning of “illegal” then we need to vote for people that do.

  • Gunnar5

    I think Besse, a professional pot stirring Democrat, is a BIG government aficionado. His proposed resolution adds nothing to the city’s well being. There are already over 50,000 Hispanics living in Forsyth County. Why does Besse think there should be more here? I think he’s just a little man who wants some self-serving free publicity.

  • Carla Brown Oakley

    And that my friends is breaking federal law. Why all the sudden. Obama deported over a million his first year. I will leave WS if this becomes a sanctuary city. We can welcome anyone who wants to come here, but we have to make them following the law. I just wonder what you would say to Kate Steinle’s family.