Black sheriffs from state’s largest counties renew their opposition
Despite drawing sharp criticism from sheriffs and community members, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill today that would remove the discretion of local sheriffs when it comes to cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The most current version of Senate Bill 101 would require local sheriffs to make an inquiry to ICE when they cannot determine the immigration status of a person charged with felony drug offenses or violent crimes.
Not only does the bill make this inquiry compulsory, it creates a new detention policy. If ICE requests local law enforcement agencies to hold individuals, judicial officials would have to lock them up in jails for at least 48 hours regardless of their pretrial release conditions set by the state, or until ICE picks them up.
These ICE warrants, also known as “detainers,” serve as the main conduit for the federal immigration authority to put people into the deportation system, according to the ACLU. However, the ACLU stated, these people in custody were detained without due process.
In the state court system, judges and magistrates normally set pretrial release conditions for people based on their likelihood of appearing in court and their risk to public safety.
A similar version of the bill, HB 370 in 2019, was vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper. “This bill, in addition to being unconstitutional, weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating sheriffs to do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their ability to protect their counties,” Cooper expressed concerns in his veto
The bill’s sponsor Sen. Chuck Edwards, (R-Buncombe, Henderson & Transylvania), said it’s important to reconsider the bill. “We are seeing crime rates escalate in counties that are not cooperating with ICE,” he said. He asked the committee members for their support after altering some of the language from the original bill. The newer version wouldn’t remove a sheriff from office if they refuse to make immigration status inquiries to ICE, but would charge them with a misdemeanor crime for failing to do so.
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden said at the meeting that he strongly opposed the bill. McFadden, who spent over two decades investigating violent crimes said the measure will undermine the trust of law enforcement within the community.
McFadden said, “Instead of allowing someone to simply deport someone before having a day in court, the victim should be able to confront the accuser, and the accuser, should be able to confront the victim in court.”
Eddie Caldwell, the vice president of the NC Sheriffs’ Association told committee members that the organization voted 59-3 in support of HB 370 in 2019 and will likely support this bill.
In response, McFadden pointed out that while the sheriffs opposing this bill are relatively few in number, they represent the state’s largest counties and 80% of its population.
Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker joined McFadden in opposition. He said African American sheriffs in the eight biggest counties in the state all strongly oppose the bill.
Two members of the public representing the Hispanic community spoke at the meeting, warning against the bill’s potential impact — causing fear and separation for many immigrant families.
The bill was passed by a voice vote in the committee, with a few Democrats dissenting. It will next head to the Senate rules committee before proceeding to a floor vote.