Local News

Councilman: Policy Makes Durham 'Sanctuary' for Illegal Immigrants

Posted September 20, 2007 7:16 p.m. EDT
Updated September 20, 2007 9:36 p.m. EDT

— The debate over immigration and questions about who has the right to police the issue was the subject of a Durham City Council work session on Thursday with Durham's new police chief.

Citizens also showed up in support of a 2003 policy, Resolution 9046, which prohibits police from targeting people solely on their immigration status. Immigration status isn't checked unless someone is involved in a serious crime.

Most police departments have the same policy, and Durham investigators say that without it, many victims and witnesses in crimes would be afraid to come forward.

But Councilman and mayoral candidate Thomas Stith said the policy makes Durham a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.

"And that's the crux of this," he said. "This is not about walking out of this room and seeing someone that doesn't look like me and you and saying, 'You're not supposed to be here.'"

However, that's how dozens of supporters of the resolution saw Stith's questioning. They said changes to the policy would violate individuals' civil rights.

"The reason it's an issue, I think, is because Councilman Stith is running for mayor, and he wants to run on an anti-immigrant platform," said local attorney Ricardo Velasquez.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell, who supports the current policy, was frustrated in the session.

"I'm comfortable with where we are, and unless someone moves to change it, I assume there's no need to do anything different," Bell said.

The city's new police chief, Jose Lopez, told council members he supports the policy. He said victims and witnesses are not asked about their immigration status. But in criminal cases, he said, suspects with immigration issues will be referred to the proper agency.

"This is not a sanctuary city for criminals," he said.