Immigration policies in the Tar Heel state have been hotly contentious and, like the rest of the United States, are patch-worked across its counties.
The latest development for North Carolina was inked on July 11 when Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed Senate Bill 101 , also referred to as the “anti-sanctuary policy.” The bill would have required local law enforcement agencies to comply with detainer requests issued by ICE.
Proponents of the bill have argued that cooperating with ICE would increase public safety. For instance, Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) has stated: “At the end of the day, this is about public safety — it’s as simple as that.”
However, opponents also claim they are pushing for public safety. Gov. Cooper, in his opposition letter stated: “(Senate Bill 101) is unconstitutional and weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating that sheriffs do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their ability to protect their counties.”
As both sides defend their positions on the basis of community safety and the pursuit of justice, there is a clear disagreement. So which is it? The short answer — communities are not safer when anti-sanctuary policies are mandated across the state, and enforcing these policies places an undue financial burden on local governments and law enforcement agencies.
Past research shows that authorized and unauthorized immigrants in the United States are less likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born citizens. More recently, studies have shown that sanctuary policies decrease both property violations and violent crimes, specifically, domestic homicides.
While no studies have investigated the impact of banning sanctuary policies, one study suggests policies that facilitate cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and ICE reduce trust within immigrant communities.
Currently, there are six sanctuary counties in North Carolina — Buncombe, Durham, Forsyth, Mecklenburg, Orange and Wake. While these counties have garnered the moniker of “sanctuary counties,” it doesn’t mean complete non-compliance with ICE or detainer requests. Research shows that these policies may limit cooperation with ICE, but they don’t prevent ICE agents from taking convicted criminals into custody.
For instance, in 2019, detention centers in Mecklenburg County complied with approximately 33% of detainer requests. These requests were fulfilled despite a 2018 statement by Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden withdrawing from the 287(g) program and a commitment to no longer comply with detainer requests.
While the perception of McFadden’s policy was largely divided along party lines, it saved taxpayers approximately $5.5 million annually and reduced overcrowding in the jails.
McFadden’s strategy underscores the importance of flexibility within law enforcement, specifically regarding how and when to cooperate with ICE. This flexibility allows law enforcement agencies to optimize enforcement strategies, increase efficiency in public resource utilization, and promote public safety.
The research is clear: Sanctuary policies aren’t a “pass” for criminals, but rather one of the many mechanisms for local law enforcement agencies to prioritize public safety within their communities.
Overall, the push by ICE for cooperation with local law enforcement agencies seeks to shift the federal government’s responsibility for enforcing immigration laws to communities in North Carolina. Mandating statewide cooperation with ICE consumes the resources of budget-constrained municipalities and produces no material benefit to communities, safety, or justice — all without compensation from the federal government.
Joaquin Alfredo-Angel Rubalcaba is an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studies immigration policies.