Q&A: Sanctuary cities, immigrant IDs

Posted November 14, 2015

More than 100 people rallied on Oct. 29, 2015, outside the Governor's Mansion, including some who blocked the entrance to the building, in response to Gov. Pat McCrory's decision to sign into law a proposal that prohibits any North Carolina county or municipality from restricting local law enforcement's ability to cooperate with federal immigration officials.

— Gov. Pat McCrory said he signed House Bill 318 to make sure everyone was following the law of the land, but there still seems to be some questions about how the law that limits what identity documents government officials can use will work in practice.

"We're going to enforce the law and help our law enforcement officers protect our citizens," McCrory said during an Oct. 28 bill-signing ceremony in Greensboro.

Backers of the measure say it does away with sanctuary cities, a loosely defined term for local laws that curtail enforcement of immigration laws in favor of some other priorities.

However, the law's passage and coverage of the measure have raised questions with readers. Here are some of those answers:

The term sanctuary city has come up a lot in reference to House Bill 318. What is a sanctuary city?

The term is not precisely defined, although the legislation describes a sanctuary ordinance as one that limits local law enforcement's cooperation with federal agencies on immigration matters. That generally jibes with a definition CNN used this summer, that described local governments with "policies or laws that limit the extent to which law enforcement and other government employees will go to assist the federal government on immigration matters."

Backers of policies that would generally fall under the label generally view the term as pejorative.

"Local governments" includes counties as well as municipal jurisdictions.

Even with a layman's definition at hand, there are arguments over what exactly earns a city "sanctuary" status.

For example, a 2013 "Civil Liberties Resolution" has caused a great deal of debate over whether Asheville is aptly described as a sanctuary city. That resolution said, in part, "In the absence of state, interstate or international criminal or national security investigations, the city of Asheville does not actively participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law."

But Asheville doesn't appear on lists of sanctuary cities compiled by the Ohio Jobs & Justice PAC, the Federation for American Immigration Reform or the Center for Immigration Studies, all three of which are groups critical of sanctuary city policies.

The three groups, however, don't agree on which cities and counties in North Carolina should be put on sanctuary lists. The Center for Immigration Studies, for example, recently updated its list to include 340 jurisdictions, none of which is in North Carolina.

Even if the term is used to describe a particular jurisdiction, it doesn't by itself convey exactly what policies might be in play. Measures can range from cases such as Asheville, in which city leaders expressed a desire not to inquire about immigration status unless necessary, to cities with specific policies such as Greensboro, where a local nonprofit issued identity cards to residents who might otherwise be undocumented, to cities that had given specific instructions to police agencies about how to deal with people who may be in the United States illegally.

What exactly does the new law do?

The six-page bill was amended by subsequent legislation. Bill drafters offered a summary of its four basic parts as amended.

One section of the bill prohibits the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services from applying for the federal waivers needed to extend food assistance for able-bodied, unemployed adults without children beyond March 1, 2016. Another section tightens E-verify requirements for cities and counties that hire contractors. E-verify is a system used to ensure that workers hired for a particular job are in the United States legally.

However, the two sections that have proved most controversial and have been the subject of protests deal with identity documents and how local governments deal with immigration enforcement.

The documents provision bans state and local government officials from accepting two categories of identification:

  • Matricula consular cards issued by the Mexican consulate or other similar identity cards, other than a passport, "issued by the consulate or embassy of another country."
  • Identity documents created by a person, organization, county, city or other local authority except as specifically authorized by the General Assembly. For example, in Greensboro, the nonprofit FaithAction International House issues identity cards that have been accepted by the Greensboro police.

There is an exception for that second group of documents for certain law enforcement purposes, but by and large, government officials will be banned from considering identity documents not created by the federal, state or tribal governments.

The matricula consular card issued by the Mexican consulate has been a particular bugaboo for immigration control advocates who say it is commonly used by people in the country illegally.

"Anyone who needs a matricula consular card is not in the country legally," said Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, a lead author of House Bill 318.

Opponents of the measure say that outlawing use of the consular cards is simply creating problems for those who deal with the public in schools, register of deeds offices and other government service roles. Some of those offices are required by federal law or court rulings to continue providing services to people who might have used a consular card but will now be forced to find ways to work around the ban.

"It's created some uncertainty and confusion for what are essentially administrative offices," said Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the North Carolina branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The final section of the bill bans city councils and boards of county commissioners from limiting how much their law enforcement agencies can work federal immigration enforcement. It also outlaws policies that would limit the gathering of information regarding immigration status from those who come into contact with law enforcement.

Backers of this provision, such as Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, say that too often ID cards from a consulate aren't credible, which makes it difficult for his deputies to identify people.

Other area law enforcement leaders, including Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez, say the law will make their jobs more difficult because it could deter crime victims and witnesses from coming forward.

"They are going to avoid the police, and the sad part is they are going to avoid the police as victims, as individuals who have information of criminal activity and, sadly enough, as individuals participating in police-related activities," Lopez said.

Other summaries have been offered by the ACLU and the North Carolina Justice Center, both of which opposed the bill.

Which agencies are covered by the new law?

Any state agency or local government, including cities, counties and local authorities such as water and sewer districts, are required to abide by the new law. This includes public school districts and county agencies such as registers of deeds and health departments and city agencies like police departments.

How will the law affect police officers? What ID cards are they allowed to look at?

When Maria Carmen Rodriguez, 30, was arrested during a protest just after McCrory signed House Bill 318, she provided her matricula consular card when asked for identification, and Wake County deputies accepted it.

Carmen Rodriguez Sheriff says Wake deputies will accept any ID to start investigation That raised questions because government officials are specifically prohibited from looking at matricula cards.

The legislation says government officials may not use two classes of documents to identify someone. The first class includes "a matricula consular or other similar document, other than a valid passport, issued by a consulate or embassy of another country." The second group involves "an identity document created by any person, organization, county, city, or other local authority, except where expressly authorized to be used for identification by the General Assembly."

According to Eddie Caldwell, general counsel to the North Carolina Sheriffs' Association, sheriffs and other law enforcement officers are forbidden from using consular cards issued by the the Mexican embassy and other foreign governments under any circumstances.

"If you see a (matricula consular card), you just treat it as if you don't see it," Caldwell said when asked what advice he gave sheriffs around the state.

However, as explained by the official bill summary, police can look at identity cards produced by local governments and nonprofits if that's the only identity paper that somebody who has been stopped has to show. Caldwell emphasized this exception does not extend to the matricula card.

Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said that police officers have always used a variety of documents when trying to identify someone, ranging from power bills and leases to gym membership cards. The law still gives police officers the flexibility to use a number of documents, but not the matricula card or documents like it.

Harrison says the Wake County Sheriff's Office wouldn't rely on a matricula card to identify someone, but his deputies might examine it similar to how they might look at other evidence.

"I wouldn't say, 'put that back in your pocket,'" Harrison said, adding that it might help establish whether deputies are dealing with someone who is trying to deceive them or telling the truth about who they are. "Something is better than nothing. It gives me something to work with."

That said, he emphasized, his deputies can no longer rely on the card as a way of establishing someone's identity.

Are there things that police and sheriffs will have to do now that they didn't have to do before? If an undocumented person reports a crime, are they are risk of being taken into custody or deported themselves?

The answer to this question may evolve over time, but experts WRAL News spoke with in November 2015 said that the law would not require police departments or sheriffs to change their policing procedures.

"Basically, it said to law enforcement to continue enforcing the law as you did before this issue came up," said Caldwell of the N.C. Sheriffs' Association.

Sughrue said that Raleigh officers rarely, if ever, ask about citizenship, and that is unlikely to change.

"We're going to follow the law," he emphasized.

House Bill 318 tells city councils and boards of county commissioners that they can't pass local ordinances or policies that hamper police from enforcing immigration laws, but it does not tell police agencies that they have to make some affirmative change.

"All we're really concerned with is whether a crime has been committed, is there something we can do to help the victim and is there a suspect who needs to be brought to justice," Sughrue said.

None of that, he said, requires officers to inquire about the immigration status of a crime victim or witness.

Kate Woomer-Deters, a staff attorney with the N.C. Justice Center, said that she could not speak to every police agency in the state, but most departments seem to be taking similar stances.

"If they didn't ask for an immigration status before, they can continue not asking about status," Woomer-Keters said. "We would maintain that they have discretion with regard to not asking."

However, she and others working for the Justice Center say they are fielding questions from people and organizations throughout the state about how the new law will work and what might change.

How does this law affect those seeking a driver's license?

It doesn't.

To obtain a regular North Carolina driver's license, North Carolina requires several categories or documents, including ones that provide proof of a Social Security number.

There are people who fall under "deferred action" immigration status, known by the shorthand DACA, who have been granted immunity from deportation by the federal government. In order to get a driver's licenses, a person covered by DACA would have to show documents specified by the federal government.

During the summer of 2015, state House members contemplated expanding identity cards and limited driving privileges to those here illegally, but that measure did not pass.

How does this law affect the children of undocumented workers who want to register for school?

Children of undocumented families must still be admitted to school, no matter what the law in North Carolina says regarding documents. That's in large part due to Plyler v. Doe, a U.S. Supreme Court case that held a Texas statute barring such students from school violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

"For purposes of school enrollment, parents are required to provide proof of domicile, which is generally satisfied by a lease, utility bill or similar document. A photo ID of some kind is generally requested to match the person who is registering the child with the proof of domicile, but this is not an inflexible requirement," said Michael Yarborough, a spokesman for the Wake County Public School System.

While it is clear that the legislation does apply to school systems, he said, it's unclear what, if any, adjustment Wake County or other school systems might need to make to their procedures. For example, schools may require an adult who is not a child's parent to show a photo ID before releasing the student if that adult isn't already known to the staff members at the school.

"At this point, we are working with our attorneys to discuss what the implications of HB 318 will be. Those details have not yet been determined," he said.

Like most schools, "Wake County officials make no inquiry into citizenship status and do not require passports, visas or other documents that undocumented aliens are incapable of producing," Yarborough said.

How will this affect applications for marriage licenses or birth certificates?

The office in each county that deals with marriage licenses and birth certificates is the register of deeds. As with school officials, registers across the state may find themselves trying to pick their way through various legal requirements.

"A register must comply with state law," said Charles Szpszak, a faculty member with the University of North Carolina School of Government who advises register of deeds offices.

In particular, Szpszak said, House Bill 318 "seems like a specific withdrawal of your discretion to consider matricula cards for any identification or residency purposes."

State law does allow those seeking to get a copy of vital records such as birth certificates to use a number of documents to prove their identity, including things such as a current utility bill with a current address, a car registration, a bank statement or a pay stub.

The requirements are a bit stricter for a marriage license. According to a list of requirements posted online, "applicants must show proof of Social Security number and identity."

Preston, of the ACLU, points out that courts have found there is a constitutional right to marry in cases related to same-sex marriage.

But Szpszak said that, for the moment, House Bill 318 is the law of the land.

"If someone seeks a marriage license and cannot present identification that is acceptable under state statutes, that person may bring a constitutional challenge in the courts," he said, adding that, until then, registers of deeds have to follow instructions from lawmakers.

There may be workarounds in specific cases. For example, the Mexican consulate in Raleigh says it will marry two Mexican nationals in a civil ceremony.

Other questions?

Do you have more questions about how House Bill 318 will work? The N.C. Justice Center is running a hotline to field questions from members of the immigrant community: 919-526-0676.

You can also email WRAL News reporter Mark Binker by clicking on his name below.


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  • Peter Stevens Nov 14, 2015
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    Good point, Laura Leslie reached out to her fellow members of the Western Blvd Democrat club and got quotes from them. The GOP didn't dominate the last three elections by accident.

  • Craig Elliott Nov 14, 2015
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    If you're an illegal alien by definition you don't have a passport much less a visa. The Matricula Consular only certifies Mexican nationality and is notoriously easy to obtain fraudulently.

  • Barrett Powell Nov 14, 2015
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    "the law's passage and coverage of the measure have raised questions with readers."

    What readers? Please do tell...

  • SusanandAaron Tambot-Blankenship Nov 14, 2015
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    To be fair, if you're not a US citizen you should be using your foreign passport as an ID. My children (not US citizens) use their passport and alien registration ID for healthcare ID etc..
    As long as the state accepts the consulate issued passports I don't see an issue here.