Governor Pat McCrory signed legislation in October prohibiting sanctuary cities in North Carolina, a decision that has been met with significant controversy. 

The law, House Bill 318, prevents any North Carolina county from having policies, ordinances or procedures that restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws. The law also prohibits government officials from accepting forms of identification not issued by the state or federal government and requires compliance with E-Verify—an internet-based system used to determine employees' eligibility to work in North Carolina. Lastly, the legislation prohibits North Carolina from establishing sanctuary cities, which do not enforce federal immigration law and are often viewed as safe havens for undocumented immigrants.

“The law seems to give all law enforcement officers free reign—whatever the local policy had been and perhaps regardless of what their own superior officers say—to gather immigration information from people and refer that information to federal immigration officers," wrote Hans Linnartz, a senior lecturing fellow in the School of Law, in an email. 

Linnartz noted that the law’s sanctuary city prohibition was aimed at cities in which the local governing authority or police department has stated that immigration status is irrelevant to a city’s duty to enforce criminal law—cities that include Charlotte, Chapel Hill, Asheville and Durham. In 2007, the city of Chapel Hill passed a resolution prohibiting police from arresting a person based solely on immigration status. According to the Durham police manual, police officers are not “to direct efforts at individual violations of immigrant status.”

Willie Glenn, public affairs manager for the Durham Police Department, expressed the department's intent to follow the new law.

“Durham isn’t a sanctuary city, but we do have some policies that conflict with the new state law,” Glenn wrote in an email. “The Durham Police Department will comply fully with the law.”

Noah Pickus, associate provost and Nannerl O. Keohane Director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics, wrote in an email that the sanctuary city legislation, and the state level ban on it, reflect competing values and priorities: establishing trust with the immigrant population to report crimes and maintaining trust with the general populace that the laws will be enforced. 

Durham’s previous policies, however, are unlikely to be affected by the new law, Linnartz wrote. Despite the law, state and local officers have no authority to arrest someone based on civil immigration violations. He cited the Supreme Court case Arizona v. United States, which deemed Arizona’s attempt to empower its state officers to make such arrests unconstitutional. 

Glenn noted that the Durham Police Department was unlikely to see drastic change. 

“I don’t think it will change much of how DPD operates because it allows law enforcement the discretion of accepting consular IDs,” Glenn wrote.

Linnartz also noted that the law would be unlikely to make a significant legal impact despite the controversy, and that the law may have stemmed from legislators' pandering to the “fear-driven anti-immigrant crowd." Under Article 18, the bill describes consulate documents that are not acceptable forms of identification, including Mexican consular-issued identity cards, also known as the "matricula consular." He explained that the section refusing to trust the matricula consular was "simply an insult to the Mexican government."

Regarding law enforcement, Linnartz added that the new bill may cause undocumented immigrants who are the victims or witnesses of crimes to be scared to assist police out of fear of being reported.

“If a local cop has a bee in his or her bonnet about people being 'illegal,' he or she can ask the questions, try to judge the person's status and call Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Linnartz wrote.

Linnartz noted that the law is unlikely to prevent criminals from finding sanctuary in Durham and other cities because criminals are always subject to arrest and prosecution regardless of a city's immigration policies. 

“Lacking immigration status is a violation of America's civil law, not its criminal law,” he added.

The portion of the law that prohibits any county from restricting the enforcement of federal immigration law "changes nothing," Linnartz explained. Prior to the bill, North Carolina cities had no laws interfering with federal immigration officials’ work with aliens who needed to be deported for criminal acts.

"These local/state level debates reflect the absence of a comprehensive approach to immigration that balances valid but competing priorities and claims," Pickus wrote. "Until this broader bargain can be struck, we will continue to see eruptions of more law or rights oriented policies at the local level."