Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

GOP lawmakers advance ICE cooperation bill over sheriffs’ objections

Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) explains House Bill 370 at a committee meeting Monday. The bill would force sheriffs to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

GOP lawmakers want to take law enforcement out of the hands of, well, law enforcement.

Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell) spent more than an hour Monday presenting House Bill 370 and answering and dodging questions about the anti-immigration measure that would force state law enforcement to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests to hold individuals believed to be unlawfully in the U.S.

The bill ultimately was given a favorable report along a divided voice vote in the House Rules Committee, despite multiple requests to slow it down for a week or two so the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association could work out a compromise. It was also given the favorable report over the objections of those impacted sheriffs in the state, who all showed up for public comment and who all took issue with misinterpreted facts and the fear tactics presented at the meeting. They also said lawmakers never reached out to them before or during the creation of HB370.

The bill will be heard Wednesday on the House floor.

Sheriffs currently have the discretion — per federal law — to honor the detainer requests or not, particularly because they’re not judicial warrants signed by any judge, which raises Fourth Amendment concerns. Most of the sheriffs across the state honor those requests, but there’s been a handful of Black sheriffs elected to urban cities specifically on platforms to stop voluntary cooperation with ICE.

Hall said it didn’t matter what those voters elected their sheriffs for — he believes they are shirking their duties by not cooperating with ICE and voluntarily honoring their requests, and that puts the public in danger.

HB370 would completely eliminate sheriffs’ discretion with immigration enforcement, force them to honor ICE detainer requests and punish them with monetary fines if they fall out of compliance. Hall said ICE helped lawmakers create the bill.

“At the end of the day, this is about public safety — it’s as simple as that,” Hall said. “These sanctuary sheriffs are simply putting partisan politics ahead of public safety. That’s the reality, can’t escape it.”

The sheriffs who showed up for public comment took issue with being called “sanctuary sheriffs,” and they had more than a few words for the GOP lawmakers sponsoring the bill.

“I am an African American sheriff, negro sheriff, Black sheriff — I serve people in the county, the human race,” said Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers. “I’m not a sanctuary sheriff, I’m not a anything that you want to call it, but I do want you to understand something: the people of Guilford County is who I serve, all people, all of them, and I will continue to follow the rules and regulations the way I am supposed to. To tell me that I am putting the citizens of Guilford County in harm when I ran for this seat, you need to fact check, and I sincerely mean it.”

He added that he hoped lawmakers in the room would approach the issue with greater heart and humanity.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden talks with media Monday after a committee hearing on a bill that would force him to work with ICE. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, who has been attacked by ICE for changing the way his office cooperates with the federal agency, expressed frustration that the bill sponsors never even talked to him about immigration.

“You’ve never spoken to me; you’ve never even called me,” he said. “You listen to one thing, you listen to ICE.”

He added that he is a 38-year veteran of North Carolina and took offense after a long homicide investigative career keeping the streets and his community safe that lawmakers would accuse him of letting a dangerous immigrant out of jail. He and his family live in the same community; he wouldn’t do that, he said.

McFadden also took issue with the “sanctuary sheriff” remark, and he reiterated that ICE detainers are not official judicial warrants — he doesn’t release anybody unless a judge says to release them.

“If you want my people to hold these people in jail, bring me a warrant, not a detainer, because if I wanted just to hold somebody for a murder, I could call another city and say, ‘can you detain him for a minute and let me sign a consent to search,'” he said. “All we are doing is asking ICE simply to do this: follow the rules, bring me a piece of paper and I’ll hold them.”

He added that committee members were misinformed by scare tactics and “sweet talking” and invited them to come into his jail and to talk to all the affected sheriffs working with ICE about the real facts.

“Don’t go just to ICE, because ICE surely came for me, and if I have to come for them to stand my ground, that’s what I will do,” McFadden said.

Several sheriffs spoke and members of the Sheriff’s Association, which doesn’t yet have a stance on the bill, because the organization hasn’t had time vet the measure.

There was a lot of debate about the bill before the voice vote to give it a favorable report. Ultimately the GOP lawmakers won out. Hall, in particular, completely opposed postponing voting on the bill to wait for a compromise.

He said no bill is perfect, but HB370 is right where it needs to be, and lawmakers needed to move ASAP to force law enforcement to work with ICE because it was a community safety issue.

Commentary, Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, Education, Legislature

The Week’s Top Stories on NC Policy Watch

1.Latest school testing proposals are emblematic of NC’s failed public ed policies

There’s an old adage – often attributed to Albert Einstein and/or Mark Twain – that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Neither Einstein nor Twain ever had occasion to review the effectiveness of North Carolina’s K-12 education policy, but it seems likely that if the two great men could be transported forward in time to the modern era to render such an assessment, each would nod, smile wistfully, and say “I told you so.”

The latest compelling indicator of this sobering reality: the recent spate of proposals from state lawmakers to overhaul both the state’s K-12 testing regimen and the system of letter “performance” grades handed out to individual schools.

As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported last week, Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a teacher from Wilkes County, has introduced a bill that would do away with numerous tests that are inflicted on North Carolina students and teachers each year. [Read more…]

2. Supreme Court weighs its role in limiting partisan gerrymandering

U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared willing Tuesday to rein in partisan gerrymandering — desperate even, for attorneys to give them some sort of manageable numeric standard by which they could determine how much politics is too much when it comes to redistricting.

It wasn’t that simple, though, and after considering three challenges to congressional maps — two to the 2016 GOP-drawn map in North Carolina and one to a Democratic-drawn map in Maryland — at least two conservative justices seemed unconvinced to expend any more judicial energy on the issue.

Justice Samuel Alito, a George W. Bush appointee, and Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Donald Trump appointee, both seemed hung up on the lack of a numeric solution to the problem and fixated on alternatives to court intervention.[Read more…]

Bonus read: NC Republicans double down on partisan gerrymandering

3. On Medicaid expansion, John Kasich is unchained in North Carolina


John Kasich insisted several times this week that he’s a free man.

Free from politics? Free from partisanship? Free from Trump? Certainly not free of ambition – the former Ohio governor all but acknowledged last week that he hasn’t ruled out another run for president.

Yet whatever’s unchained Kasich, be it canny political strategy or a moneymaking book deal or Jiminy Cricket on his shoulder, we’re the better for it in North Carolina, at least for today.

Kasich’s savvy skewering of North Carolina Republicans during Tuesday’s N.C. Rural Center event was one part stump speech — rife with jabs at his supposedly vanquished political rivals in Ohio — and one part scolding, lambasting the GOP’s untenable and unconscionable Medicaid blockade in Raleigh. [Read more…]

4. State Superintendent Mark Johnson doesn’t support May 1 teacher protest march

State Superintendent Mark Johnson didn’t attend last year’s teacher protest march and rally for higher pay and more school funding.

And he isn’t likely to make it to the second march planned for May 1.

Johnson, a Republican elected in 2016, said in a statement Thursday that he can’t support a protest that “forces schools to close.”

“The protest organizers should choose a non-school day,” Johnson said. “The legislature will be in session in Raleigh for at least another three months, a time period that spans dozens of days students are not scheduled to be in school, including spring break and summer break.” [Read more…]

Bonus reads:

5. Senate committee deals another blow to controversial environmental nonprofit

The Resource Institute, a politically connected nonprofit that received a controversial and unprecedented $5 million appropriation for hurricane recovery in last year’s budget, could lose part of its windfall, according to a bill that passed out of the Senate Rules Committee today.

Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Onslow County, last week had amended Senate Bill 95, which contains various appropriations, to redirect $1.6 million of RI’s original funding to North Topsail Beach to help with beach renourishment and hurricane recovery.

North Topsail Beach “already has plans in place,” Brown told his fellow lawmakers on the Rules Committee.

While that is true, Brown’s statement downplayed the disgruntlement of North Topsail town officials over the Resource Institute appropriation, which led them to petition Brown to redirect the money.  [Read more…]

Bonus read:
And the wind cried Harry: Sen. Brown introduces anti-wind energy bill — again

6. NC lawmakers introduce package of LGBTQ-friendly bills

On Thursday, Democratic state lawmakers filed three bills designed to protect LGBTQ North Carolinians from discrimination, outlaw harmful “conversion” therapy that targets them and fully repeal HB2 — the infamous law that cast an international spotlight on the state as a battleground for transgender rights.

“As a transgender woman I know that the bills filed today will have a very real impact on the lives and legal equality of LGBTQ North Carolinians,” said Allison Scott, director of policy for the Campaign for Southern Equality.

“So many attacks on the LGBTQ community are linked, rooted in the desire to wave us away,” Scott said. “The company that fires someone because of who they are, the business that refuses to sell something to a same-sex couple, the so-called ‘conversion’ therapist who tries to force someone to change a core part of themselves.

The North Carolina lawmakers who try to tell me that I can’t use the women’s restroom.”[Read more…]

7. Weekly Editorial Cartoon:

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Lawmakers move forward with anti-immigration measure forcing sheriffs to work with ICE

North Carolina House Judiciary members voted 17-9 along party lines to advance a bill that would require state law enforcement to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention requests — something that is not even required by federal law.

A “detainer” from ICE is a request for local law enforcement to hold individuals they believe are not lawful citizens in jail or prison for up to 48 hours until the federal agency can take custody and begin deportation proceedings.

GOP lawmakers took direction Wednesday from President Donald Trump when they presented House Bill 370 to committee members and the public by spreading fear about “criminal immigrants” and discussing how difficult some sheriffs across the state were making it for ICE agents to do their jobs.

Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), one of the bill sponsors, told the committee that people shouldn’t have to beg sheriffs for protection, but then he admitted a short time later that most of the sheriffs across the state already honor ICE detainers and have been doing so for a long time. HB370 is just a mechanism to force the hands of the few who aren’t, and who were elected on platforms promising they wouldn’t.

The North Carolina Sheriff’s Association is not taking a position on the bill, according to information presented at the meeting. Several members of the public spoke against the bill and highlighted the dangers of fear-mongering in immigrant communities, which would erode trust between victims of crime and the law enforcement officers who are supposed to help them.

“This bill is essentially a show-me-your-papers law forcing sheriffs deputies to become immigration agents,” said Sejal Zota, legal director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

She added that the bill would create an unfunded mandate forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for detaining immigrants on behalf of ICE. She said lawmakers kept talking about how difficult it is for ICE agents to do their job, but the public is worried about whether HB370 will make it harder for local agencies to do their job.

No one spoke in favor of the bill during public comment. Committee Chair Rep. Ted Davis Jr. (R-New Hanover) refused to answer questions from the public and said he did not anticipate talking with them.

Rep. Christy Clark (D-Mecklenburg) told committee members she thought it spoke volumes that none of the public there showed support for the bill and that she has been hearing from constituents who are worried about its implications. The Mecklenburg County Sheriff is one who has been outspoken about his relationship with ICE, and he has put limits on how much his office works with the federal agency.

HB370 would punish law enforcement that didn’t honor ICE detainer requests with a civil penalty – $1,000-$1,500 for the first offense and $25,000-$25,500 for each subsequent offense (and every day an agency is out of compliance). The measure will now be referred to the House State and Local Government Committee.

Commentary, Defending Democracy, Education, Environment, News

This week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

Don’t get shut out — RSVP today for the upcoming March 28 Crucial Conversation luncheon with state Budget Director Charles Perusse and Senior Advisor to the Governor, Ken Eudyclick here to learn more!

1. Following an acrimonious start, state takeover program settling into North Carolina school

Southside Ashpole Elementary School in Robeson County looks like most elementary schools in rural North Carolina.

The 1950s-era school building — located along North Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., in Rowland — is showing its age, but is well-kept.

During a reporter’s visit in February, students, dressed in the school uniform of polo shirts and khakis, are quiet and orderly as they line up to change classes or go to lunch.

[Read more…]

** Bonus read: Senate bill would put brakes on charter school expansion
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2. Facing resistance from some sheriffs, N.C. lawmakers seek to force cooperation with ICE

A “detainer” from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a request for local law enforcement to hold individuals they believe are not lawful citizens in jail or prison for up to 48 hours until the federal agency can take custody and begin deportation proceedings.

Detainers are not judicial orders signed by any court official, and they are not arrest warrants that require any kind of finding of probable cause. The individuals targeted by detainer requests are typically otherwise eligible for release from jail or prison.

Some law enforcement entities honor ICE detainer requests, but, recently, some sheriffs across North Carolina have decided to end voluntary cooperation with the federal agency – in fact, they were elected on that platform, often over their more conservative counterparts. [Read more…]

** Bonus read: New ABA report: Immigration courts ‘irredeemably dysfunctional’ and on ‘brink of collapse’

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3. After East Carolina chancellor’s ouster, a UNC Board of Governors on the brink

When Cecil Staton announced his resignation as chancellor of East Carolina University this week, it had an air of inevitability, but not because of Staton’s performance since his hiring in 2016.

While the UNC System will not release the results of his last “360 job review,” two members of the UNC Board of Governors confirmed to Policy Watch it was a positive one. The members spoke on the condition that their identities remain confidential because they were discussing personnel information the system deems privileged.

(Staton has asked the system to release the review, but it has thus far declined to do so.)  [Read more…]

** Bonus read: ECU Foundation Chair: Staton “was bullied from the beginning”
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4. Duke U. scientists to focus on radon, coal ash, flame retardants in Iredell thyroid cancer cluster probe

Something is changing the genetic code in the cells of young girls in Iredell County.

Duke University scientists last night released preliminary findings of 18 months’ of study into potential causes of papillary thyroid cancer among teen girls, some as young as 13, in the ZIP codes of 28115 and 28117. Those areas include neighborhoods on or near Lake Norman.

Heather Stapleton and Kate Hoffman emphasized that more study is needed, but that radon gas in indoor air, which is naturally occurring, and radioactivity in soil, which could be the result of coal ash, deserve further scrutiny. Three homes in their study where people had been recently diagnosed with thyroid cancer also had significantly elevated levels of compounds used in flame retardants. [Read more…] ===
5. Change comes again to the UNC system, but not to the Board of Governors

Everyone’s taking a powder in the UNC system these days.

Everyone, it seems, but the powerful individuals on the UNC Board of Governors, an onerously large pack of political hell-raisers and right-wingers who’ve sullied the “crown jewel,” North Carolina’s decorated and bedeviled university system.

Whatever you think of Cecil Staton, an ex-Georgia lawmaker turned ECU chancellor whose tortured political history threatened to overshadow his academic pedigree, his departure this week is a disaster, an unofficial sacking that smells malodorously like some kind of coup. [Read more]

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6. Getting real about the minimum wage

A new and promising push to raise North Carolina’s minimum wage gets underway today. Lawmakers and advocates will convene a press conference at the General Assembly this morning to announce the introduction of House Bill 366 – a proposal to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next five years and index it to inflation thereafter. A Senate companion bill will be introduced shortly.

In a rational policy environment, such a move would be widely accepted as a long overdue “no brainer” – the kind of step that any healthy society would implement as a matter of course to keep its economy strong and balanced. The data in support of such a change are compelling and plentiful.

Among the findings in a new report from the North Carolina Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project…[Read more…]

** Bonus read: Report: Why raising the minimum wage is good for everyone
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7. Editorial Cartoon:

 

Courts & the Law, Defending Democracy, News

Justice for Niecey: Durham agrees to stop housing juveniles, adults together after death of teen

Youth advocates and community members gathered last July outside the Durham County Detention Facility to remember the life of Uniece “Niecey” Fennell, a teen who committed suicide while housed there last year. They also called for policy changes to prevent such a situation. (Photo by Melissa Boughton)

Durham County will stop housing juveniles and adults together in detention as part of a settlement agreement with the family of 17-year-old Uniece “Niecey” Fennell, who committed suicide two years ago at the jail there.

North Carolina does not currently keep track of how many children are locked up with adults in its county detention facilities. Durham County already made some changes following Fennell’s death and a subsequent investigation, but her family and juvenile justice advocates demanded better.

“Losing a child is the most difficult thing I have ever experienced,” said Julia Graves, Fennell’s mother. “It was important to our family that Durham change the way it treats children in its custody. It gives me some peace of mind to know that if this settlement is approved, children detained in the future will be treated more humanely. There is nothing that can take away the pain we still feel from losing Niecey. But there is comfort in knowing that part of her legacy will be making conditions safer for other children.”

The lawsuit Fennell’s family filed and the settlement agreement were filed simultaneously with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina and are currently awaiting the court’s approval. The Southern Coalition for Social Justice represents the family in the case and negotiated the settlement with Durham County and the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.

The agreement to end the practice of co-housing juveniles and adults, if approved, would be legally-binding and enforceable and would be achievable through the expansion of the Durham County Youth Home or the development of a reasonable alternative.

Other agreements in the settlement include:

  • The removal of all identifiable suicide hazards from the Durham County Detention Facility by the end of 2019 (many hanging hazards, including those identified by a Plaintiff’s expert, have already been remedied);
  • The adoption of a formal policy prioritizing beds in the Durham County Youth Home for Durham County juveniles;
  • Mandatory Crisis Intervention Training for all Durham County detention officers;
  • Staffing of a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is able to consult a psychiatrist who is on call 24/7 or available to come to the facility whenever called by the LCSW;
  • Notification to guardians of unemancipated juveniles when they face a life-threatening medical condition, attempt suicide, or make a threat of self-harm; and,
  • A payment of $650,000 to Fennell’s mother

The family was represented by Ian Mance, Whitley Carpenter and Ivy Johnson of the SCSJ’s criminal justice project. Hank Ehlies of the Policy Council for Law Enforcement and the Mentally Ill was also part of the legal team.

“We appreciate all of the hard work on the part of Sheriff [Clarence] Birkhead and all parties involved that went into creating this settlement agreement,” Mance said. “It is now clear to all parties that it is unacceptable to house children and adults in the same spaces in detention facilities. We are optimistic that the settlement agreement can help us move forward with policies that make sense and protect children. It’s important to the family of Uniece Fennell that something positive comes from this tragedy.”

North Carolina is the only state in the nation that still defines a juvenile as someone under the age of 16. Lawmakers passed language to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18 years old, but that measure won’t take effect until Dec. 1. Until then, state law only requires complete sight and sound separation for juveniles under the age of 16.

Counties, however, can make changes before “Raise the Age” takes effect by housing all youth under the age of 18 in separate pods from adults and by choosing to follow the sight and sound separation guidelines.