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Bill forcing NC sheriffs to aid immigration agents revived

Critics say the bill takes away sheriffs' authority and could harm immigrant communities.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Another effort by Republican lawmakers to force North Carolina’s sheriffs to learn the immigration status of their jails' inmates and assist federal agents who want to detain them resurfaced at the General Assembly on Tuesday, more than a year after the legislation passed one chamber.

A House judiciary committee voted along party lines for a Senate measure that is only slightly different from a 2019 measure Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper successfully vetoed. Since the GOP's margins still are not veto-proof, the chances that the latest measure will become law remain low.

Tuesday's measure, which has not changed since it cleared the Senate in March 2021, is a GOP response to Democratic sheriffs in several urban counties who have decided not to work closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to identity and hold defendants believed to be in the country illegally.

The bill states that sheriffs and other jail administrators must determine whether any person charged with felony drug or violent crimes have ICE detainers seeking their custody. If a detainer is listed, deputies must take the inmate quickly to a local magistrate or judge who will decide whether to issue an order holding them. The additional hold would give ICE agents 48 hours to pick up the inmate.

MORE ON WCNC: No, warrantless home searches are not legal within 100 miles of the U.S. border

Given the recent increase in crime, the bill would “require local law enforcement to work with federal immigration officials in the interest of public safety and growing public concern,” said Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican, congressional candidate and bill sponsor.

Rep. Vernetta Alston, a Durham County Democrat and committee member, questioned the constitutionality of holding alleged offenders using detainers, which is not an arrest warrant. She also brought up the expenses to local jails to hold these defendants.

Several groups advocating for the poor and minority groups remain opposed to the bill, saying it would lead to more deportations of people who are in the country unlawfully.

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“We believe that this bill circumvents the local authority of sheriffs,” Stefania Arteaga with the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina told the committee. “This program perpetuates fear and distrust among immigrant communities and local law enforcement.”

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden released the following statement regarding the bill: 

“As I communicated to the governor’s office Tuesday, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office’s position regarding SB101 has not changed since 2021. As previously expressed, SB101 seeks to force every duly elected Sheriff in North Carolina to honor heretofore voluntary ICE detainers, even if the majority of the Sheriff’s community – and the Sheriff himself or herself with the community in mind – is wholly opposed to such cooperation with ICE. As I said when HB370 was before the legislature and I opposed it: my decades of experience in law enforcement consistently demonstrate a commitment to making my community safer, without dividing any persons or groups of persons within that community. In 2018 when I was first elected, I presented a clear mandate to stop honoring voluntary ICE detainers, and my reasons for endorsing and embracing that mandate are unequivocally on the record and will not change in my second term as Sheriff. I firmly believe that Mecklenburg County is a safer community when local law enforcement does not do ICE’s job, and all members of our community can trust and engage with local law enforcement without fear of repercussions so severe as deportation. Again, as I said when HB370 was proposed, I recognize that other Sheriffs may have differing views and adopt differing policies about immigration and cooperating with ICE. I respect those Sheriffs’ positions just as I know they respect mine. But just as HB370 tried to before, SB101 would usurp the power of every Sheriff and local community to set its own policies. Whereas it remains my firm belief that the people of each county, as reflected by the decisions of the Sheriff whom they elected, should retain the ability to decide, within the clear confines of the law, to what extent local law enforcement might cooperate with federal immigration authorities.”

The measure would have to clear one more House committee before it could reach the chamber floor. Legislative leaders are seeking to end this year's chief work session by the end of the week.

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