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Can Wilmington’s police chief be sued for saying he won’t enforce federal immigration regulations?

David Reynolds

So let’s say a police officer stops a drunken driver, realizes the driver is a friend and then lets the driver go.

The officer could be headed for a lawsuit if his friend drives away and injures or kills someone, said Troy Slaughter, a lawyer who has practiced in Wilmington for 17 years.

But while citizens can sue law enforcement in some cases, a lawsuit aimed at forcing the chief of police to enforce immigration law isn’t likely to succeed, at least not in North Carolina.

Ken Hatcher, an assistant New Hanover County public defender who used to specialize in immigration law, said police chiefs have broad discretion for allocating resources.

But the bigger problem, Hatcher said, is that enforcing immigration law is a responsibility delegated to the federal government.

Just as a sheriff’s deputy from one county can’t arrest someone in a different county, local police don’t have the legal authority to enforce federal laws, Hatcher said. On the sheriff’s deputy example, he said, some exceptions exist for chases that cross county lines.

The new law in Arizona, which has yet to take effect, would require police in that state to enforce federal immigration laws.

And, Hatcher said, that law includes a provision allowing citizens to sue local police agencies that choose not to enforce federal immigration laws.

While the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners recently passed a resolution supporting the Arizona law and calling for a similar one in North Carolina, this state doesn’t currently have a law authorizing local police to enforce federal law, Hatcher said.

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4 Responses to “ Can Wilmington’s police chief be sued for saying he won’t enforce federal immigration regulations?”

  1. On October 5, 2010 at 8:23 pm James King wrote:

    I am sure there are ways to make life very uncomfortable for any law enforcement officer, much less a leader in law enforcement for ignoring crime and not getting the community to pass ordinances against allowing enforcement to decide themselves whether to enforce a particular law or not. The county could pass an anti-tresspassing law against anyone who is believed to be breaking our laws by being here illegally. Then they could verify citizenship. Criminals always go to the areas in our country that blindly look away and allow them to establish themselves. Protect the public and the Constitution if it is in your oath, when hired. Keep your word, and do a good job or find another, if you cannot do your duty as it was sworn. I am a 100% disabled veteran because I took my oath seriously. You do not want to find out that you are really responsible, because you ignored criminals and did not lock someone up and later they killed or made another member of your community 100% disabled.

  2. On October 7, 2010 at 12:49 pm Jim wrote:

    Municipal police departments in North Carolina do not have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws. Until the North Carolina legislature passes a law, similar to that in Arizona, state and local police agencies will continue to solely depend on federal agencies, such as Immigrations & Customs Enforcement (ICE), to apprehend and deport illegal residents.

  3. On October 10, 2010 at 11:12 am Heather wrote:

    If you refuse to enforce immigration law which you have to have a green card to be in this country why enforce any laws. Breaking the law is breaking the law.

  4. On October 13, 2010 at 4:38 pm Mary wrote:

    It’s obvious the federal government isn’t doing anything to stop illegal immigration; it’s too bad nobody else wants to stand up like AZ and take a stand against illegals. This country is going to hell in a handbasket.

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