Commentary, immigration, News

Senate committees vote to move ICE bill forward despite serious concerns from lawmakers, residents

The Senate Rules committee voted Thursday to move House Bill 370 forward.

The controversial bill would require sheriffs to comply with detainer requests made by the federal Department of Homeland Security, as well as notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if any person arrested for any criminal charge is not a citizen.

The bill targets 7 newly-elected Democratic sheriffs

Senator Chuck Edwards (R-Buncombe) has touted the bill as necessary for “national security and public safety” and as a common sense measure that the majority of sheriffs are already implementing, but Sheriff Garry McFadden of Mecklenburg County pushed back against that idea at a press conference Wednesday held by Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) before the committee meeting.

“HB 370 is not about community safety,” said McFadden. “It’s about stopping sheriffs.”

Specifically, the seven African-American sheriffs who unseated their white predecessors in Buncombe, Cumberland, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, and Wake counties in the November 2018 midterm elections. Each of these sheriffs ran and was elected on a platform that included ending cooperation with ICE, and HB 370 includes a provision that would remove these sheriffs from office for refusing to honor a detainer.

Near the end of the Rules committee meeting Thursday, Sen. Harry Brown (R-Jones) claimed he had “no clue” which sheriffs would be affected by HB 370. But it is clear, as both sheriffs and lawmakers pointed out, that the bill specifically targets those seven sheriffs who decided not to participate in the voluntary federal detainer program.

“This is an attack on urban sheriffs,” reiterated Sen. Paul Lowe (D-Forsyth) at the Senate Rules committee meeting. “Now I’m not going to use the big R-word today, but I will use it before the day is out. Because that’s what it is.”

The big R-word he is referring to is racist.

As Lowe pointed out, the entirety of this bill is racist, from Section 2, the provision that would remove the noncompliant sheriffs from office, to the wildly disproportionate punishment of deportation and family separation that could be applied to any crime committed by an undocumented immigrant, even those as low-level as driving without a license.

Even the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, which threw its support behind the bill after it was amended last week, asked lawmakers to remove Section 2.

Despite rehashing of the Mecklenburg County case, Dem lawmakers insisted the bill would not protect public safety

At the Judiciary committee meeting Wednesday, Sen. Danny Britt (R-Columbus) asked Sen. Natasha Marcus (D-Mecklenburg) whether she had heard of the name “Pineda-Ancheta.” Britt was referring to Luis Pineda-Ancheta, the Mecklenburg County man who was involved in a nine-hour standoff with Charlotte police after he was released from jail—and after ICE had issued a federal immigration detainer for him. ICE spokespeople and supporters of HB 370 have repeatedly capitalized on the Pineda-Ancheta case in order to argue that ICE detainers improve community safety.

“I believe you’re talking about … the one bad actor that we’re gonna bring up here as a determinant of everything and everybody?” Marcus responded.

It is true that one bad actor should not serve as the justification for what is otherwise still a draconian measure. Opponents of HB 370 responding to the continual references to this case were right to point out that had Pineda-Ancheta been a citizen, he would have been released on bond in the same way: the absence of legal status did not make him more of a public safety threat.

“I agree that this is a matter of public safety,” said Marcus. “And I know, because I’ve done my homework, that research shows that when police and sheriffs’ associations cooperate with federal immigration agents, that it discourages immigrants, as well as U.S. citizens who are their children, good friends, and neighbors, from reporting crimes and serving as witnesses.”

Marcus is right here, and Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. (D-Durham) concurred with her in both committee meetings, but especially in Rules, when he brought up the “secondary impact,” or chilling effect, that would make even those undocumented people who are not charged with a crime fearful of law enforcement. He told a story on Thursday about a car accident he had witnessed on a Christmas morning involving an undocumented family; when he tried to call 911 to help a boy who had his arm crushed by a car, the family begged him not to do so, because they were afraid of the police.

Multiple public speakers also addressed lawmakers regarding the same issue, citing a widespread fear of deportation that would pervade the undocumented community if the bill were to be passed. Carmen Rodriguez, a woman who identified herself as a mother and an undocumented immigrant, told lawmakers during the Judiciary committee meeting that HB 370 would strain the relationship between law enforcement and immigrant communities. Two young protestors who had to be removed from the room shouted that the bill was “inhumane” and that the General Assembly was effectively “killing our families.” One 13-year-old boy, Uriel Rodriguez, began to cry as he begged the lawmakers of the Rules committee Thursday to consider how the bill would separate undocumented parents from their U.S. citizen children.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric emerged during the meetings

As much as proponents of the bill claimed to worry about public safety and national security, they inadvertently revealed their true motives multiple times throughout these proceedings. The first time was in the Senate Judiciary meeting, when Sen. Rick Horner (R-Johnston) began to speak about the bill but descended quickly into a tirade about having to pay for the education and healthcare of undocumented immigrants.

“And at some point those of us that comply and are in sanctuary cities… maybe one day we’ll get reimbursed from the federal government for what we do. We don’t ask, we just pay,” he said. “I don’t believe this is about safety in the community.”

Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), the primary sponsor of the bill, also claimed that sheriffs opposing HB 370 were taking “an extremist approach.”

“In my opinion, I think it’s simply extremist left-wing ideology that says we should have open borders, and some folks believe that’s the case,” he said. “Some believe we shouldn’t have immigration laws at all. But we do.”

Near the end of the Judiciary committee meeting Wednesday, tensions rose further between lawmakers and sheriffs. Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Guilford) said he would “personally campaign” in the next election against sheriffs who refused to comply with ICE, and when Rep. Brenden Jones (R-Columbus) said that the bill would “make these guys do what’s right,” McFadden and Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker walked out of the room.

Some lawmakers also argued that the bill is unconstitutional

Not only is the bill discriminatory, it is also potentially unconstitutional in more ways than one. As McKissick repeatedly pointed out, coercing local sheriffs to follow a federal immigration agency’s detainer requests would unconstitutionally supersede the authority of sheriffs who were democratically elected to their positions.

“ICE is not your constituent,” said Moisés Serrano, the political director of El Pueblo.

Additionally, the bill violates the Fourth Amendment’s provision against unlawful seizures, and one could argue that deporting an individual and/or separating them from their family amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

McKissick correctly predicted Thursday morning that the bill would pass Rules and hoped that proponents of HB 370 would realize how unnecessary the bill is, calling his own thought process “wishful thinking.”

“I know it will pass out of this committee today,” he said. “I know it will be on the floor one day next week. And I suspect that pretty soon it will be the law of the state of North Carolina. But I also hope that, immediately thereafter, it will be challenged in the Court and set aside as being unconstitutional.”

I hope so, too.

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