ThinkProgress

Days before the election, Northam caves to opponent’s racist ads on sanctuary cities

Virginia Democratic candidate for governor, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, with his wife Pam, left, and son Weston, celebrate his victory in the Democratic primary during an election party in Crystal City, Virginia, June 13, 2017. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Ralph Northam has said he would sign a bill to ban so-called sanctuary cities in his state, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

The topic of “sanctuary cities” became a huge talking point for Republican nominee Ed Gillespie who openly claimed such localities — which, in part, allows local enforcement authorities not to detain all suspected undocumented immigrants for potential deportation proceedings on behalf of federal authorities– invites criminal activity.

To be clear, no Virginia city and county is a “sanctuary city.” But “welcoming” policies do exist in cities where police officers have chosen not to detain suspected undocumented immigrants solely on the basis of their legal status. In those cities, police will still turn over immigrants if federal immigration authorities can provide judicial arrest warrants.

Northam’s opposition came during an interview with the Norfolk TV station WAVY, in which he said he would sign a bill banning sanctuary cities. Last month during a debate, Northam only went so far as to say he does not support sanctuary cities, but did not commit to saying whether he would sign a bill to that effect.

“If that bill comes to by desk, I sure will,” Northam told WAVY on Wednesday. “I’ve always been opposed to sanctuary cities.” 

“He knows that,” Northam added, referencing Gillespie, whose racist ads (that used stolen photos out of context) have suggested a correlation between Northam’s support for sanctuary cities with increased gang violence from MS-13. 

In February, Northam cast a tiebreaking vote against a sanctuary cities ban that was also vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The Gillespie campaign has since used Northam’s reversal to hold him accountable to sign legislation like “the very bill he has bragged about voting against.”

If Northam wins the state’s gubernatorial election next week, it will likely make him the first Democratic governor to support legislation to ban sanctuary cities.

Law enforcement officials in major cities like Houston, Texas, Los Angeles, California, and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police have previously said that welcoming policies — where immigrants who come in contact with local police are not additionally flagged for federal deportation proceedings — have improved relations between immigrant communities and the police.

Northam’s policies are sure to rattle the 272,000 undocumented immigrants living in Virginia. Overall, these individuals have contributed nearly $256 million in state and local taxes. Last month, Latinx advocacy groups launched a series of Spanish radio ads in support of Northam.