Liberal PAC Labels Northam ‘Racist’ for Opposing Sanctuary Cities

Virginia's Lt. Governor Ralph Northam / Getty Images

A Vermont-based liberal activist group on Thursday called Ralph Northam's campaign "racist" after the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate said that he does not support sanctuary cities to protect undocumented immigrants from federal immigration authorities.

Adrienne Elrod, a former spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, said Tuesday that Northam supports sanctuary cities during a Fox News interview.

The Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly considered legislation back in February aimed at banning sanctuary cities, which are localities that will neither detain nor deport people who are in the country illegally. The vote ended up being a 20-20 tie, so Northam, the lieutenant governor, cast the tie-breaking vote against the bill.

Northam appeared to flip-flop on the sanctuary cities issue during an interview Wednesday with the Norfolk TV station WAVY, saying he would sign a bill to ban such cities if a Virginia locality tries to become one.

"If that bill comes to my desk … I sure will. I've always been opposed to sanctuary cities. He knows that," Northam said of his Republican opponent Ed Gillespie, who has been running ads against Northam on this issue.

Northam's apparent flip-flop on sanctuary cities drew criticism from Charles Chamberlain, a grassroots activist and executive director of Democracy for America, a progressive political action committee headquartered in Vermont, for backtracking "on his commitment to protecting immigrant families."

Chamberlain accused Northam of running "the same old, broken, and racist playbook that lost Democrats over 1000 elected offices since 2008," according to McClatchyDC.

Many Democrats and liberals swiftly rebuked Chamberlain's comments, including DFA's founder Howard Dean, who unleashed on the group in multiple tweets.

"I Hope [sic] this is inaccurate because it is an incredibly stupid thing to say and deeply discredits the organization which I founded," Dean tweeted.

"See my previous tweet. As the founder of DFA, I think this is a destructive and foolish statement and I oppose this action by DFA," Dean wrote.

Neil Sroka, a DFA spokesman, defended the group's criticism of Northam in an interview with McClatchyDC .

"In an era where you have a bigot running the federal government, and someone like Jeff Sessions in charge of the Justice Department, you cannot stand up to racism and hate if you're not, at every opportunity, standing up for struggling immigrants being threatened by the federal government," Sroka said.

He declined to say whether the group will call Democratic candidates who oppose sanctuary cities "racist," but he said the PAC is "not going to shy away from it either."

Alfonso Lopez, a Virginia delegate and Northam supporter, issued a statement through Northam's campaign saying the candidate has always "fought for the Commonwealth to have immigration policies that are fair and compassionate."

"He opposes deputizing the state and local police to take on the duties of federal immigration agents," Lopez said. "He opposed localities having to hold undocumented Virginians longer than prescribed by warrant, statute, or a judge's order. He has also consistently supported protecting undocumented immigrants so that they can report crimes and assist law enforcement without the fear of being interrogated about their immigration status. He understands that without such protections immigrant populations and the entire community would be less safe."

"More importantly," Lopez added, "he knows the difference between real legislation and ‘dog whistle' policies crafted only to instill fear and create division. He hasn't changed his positions—he has always been consistent. And he has always been a consistent friend to the Latino and New American communities."