NC Budget and Tax Center

The Local Costs of Federal Immigration Enforcement

As North Carolina considers legislation that would put in place significant additional enforcement mechanisms of federal immigration laws, it is worth considering what has happened in Colorado.  Colorado introduced legislation in 2006 that requires local law enforcement officers and agencies to report anyone arrested for a criminal offense, who they reasonably believe to be an undocumented immigrant to the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  As part of that legislation, local agencies were required to collect data on implementation.

A report released in December 2012 shows that the costs to local communities have been high.  The state of Colorado spends upwards of $13 million per year to enforce federal immigration laws.  Most interestingly, people with suspected immigration violations stayed in county jail an average of 22 days longer than people without an ICE hold.  Moreover the vast majority were charged with low level offenses.

Legislation heard today in House Finance contains many similar aspects to the Colorado bill and in some instances goes further.  For example, in Colorado, local law enforcement officers and agencies were required to report anyone who they reasonably believe to be an undocumented immigration to ICE after a custodial arrest.  In North Carolina, anyone stopped and detained for any lawful reason, even if it is a minor offense that is not arrestable, can be detained and held in county jail for up to 24 hours so their immigration status can be verified.  Further, the bill makes it harder for undocumented immigrants to post bond, meaning local jails could face increased costs to hold people in jail until trial.

While legislators claim they will be recouping some costs by holding county jail inmates for whom ICE has “guaranteed” reimbursement, this is outside the normal protocol of how ICE and county jails work together.  Reimbursement by ICE for the majority of county jail costs is extremely unlikely.

The North Carolina legislation will impact local governments as well as the state budget. And all North Carolinians will collectively pay for these costs.

Colorado repealed their legislation just last month.  Let’s hope North Carolina doesn’t make the costly mistake of moving this legislation forward.

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