City Council receives sanctuary city petition

Jennifer Castillo speaks about her family’s experiences with deportation during the Tuesday, Jan. 20, meeting of the Winston-Salem City Council.

City Council receives sanctuary city petition
January 26
06:30 2017

Photo by Todd Luck



Local groups are asking the city to ratify a sanctuary city petition affirming its commitment to civil liberties.

There is no legal definition of a sanctuary city, but generally they’re cities like San Francisco that don’t cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. The petition presented to the City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 17, doesn’t go that far. It asks for the city to “not actively participate in carrying out the dictates of federal immigration law to the extent that it runs counter to constitutional and international human rights.”

It also asks for commitments to not profile or gather information on groups and to “ensure civil liberties of all persons and enforce protection from discrimination.” It also says drivers without a license should only be given a citation for the offense, which is already being done under state law.

Gwenette Robertson, who’s with the Winston-Salem Sanctuary Coalition, said after the meeting that the resolution is closely modeled after a civil liberties resolution that Asheville passed in 2013. She said the petition is anticipating constitutional issues that may arise from President Donald Trump’s promises to immediately deport at least 2 million undocumented immigrants and to have increased scrutiny of Muslims.

During last week’s City Council meeting, Robertson said that Imam Khalid Griggs of the Community Mosque strongly supported the petition. She said mosques in Winston-Salem have recently received death threats.

The Ministers’ Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity is a part of the coalition pushing for the petition. Rev. Alvin Carlisle said the conference supports the city taking a stand on civil liberties.

“People shouldn’t have to live in fear,” he said.

Other member groups in the coalition include El Cambio, Winston United Against Hate, Winston-Salem United for Racial Justice and Winston-Salem Socialists.

Last week’s meeting was standing room only in the council chamber with another room open for the overflow crowd. Almost all of those who spoke on the petition were in favor of it.

Jennifer Castillo, who was born in California, recalled waking up to federal authorities taking her father away for deportation. She said families are torn apart by immigration enforcement. When a loved one gets deported, families have to a make difficult decision on whether to stay in the United States or join that loved one by moving to a country that often the children in the family have never known.

“Would you look at me and say that I am somebody that is undeserving to live in this community?” she said.

Valeria Cobos, who’s lived in Winston-Salem since 2001, said that despite their undocumented status, her family has lived and contributed to the city for many years. She said they shouldn’t have to fear deportation.

“All of the roots that we’ve sown here are just going to be uplifted and we’re going to be deported because of none other than racism and discrimination,” said Cobos, who is now a permanent resident after being undocumented most of her life.

One speaker did point out that a 2016 North Carolina law prohibits cities and counties from having sanctuary ordinances. It prevents local governments from having  “any policy, ordinance, or procedure that limits or restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.”

The only City Council member to respond to the petition during the meeting was Derwin Montgomery, who said he’ll take up the petition for discussion in the general governance committee, which he chairs.

“I think it’s something we have to have a conversation about,” he said.

Most of the petition is a reflection of numerous protections that are already law. Immigration is already enforced by federal agents, not local governments, but local law enforcement does honor federal detainers on individuals already in custody. There’s already laws against police profiling minorities and restriction on things like driver’s license checkpoints to ensure they don’t target particular communities.  The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools does not check the immigration status of students, and a 1982 United States Supreme Court ruling says that undocumented children have a constitutional right to free public school education.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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