New attempt in Congress to help Dreamers runs into familiar obstacles

Venezuelans across the U.S. gain temporary protection from deportation

Senate committee revives previously vetoed proposal to mandate sheriffs’ cooperation with ICE

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 Garry McFadden

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.

Biden rolls back Trump policy on separation of migrant children from their parents

NC’s only private federal prison will close, more to follow after Biden ordered to end BOP contracts with private facilities

(Rivers Correctional Institution in Winton, NC is a private contract prison housing federal inmates, Photo: The GEO Group, Inc.)

President Biden has directed the Department of Justice to end private federal prison contracts in an executive order, a promise he made during his campaign.

“To decrease incarceration levels, we must reduce profit-based incentives to incarcerate by phasing out the Federal Government’s reliance on privately operated criminal detention facilities,” the executive order noted systemic racism in the mass incarceration and stated that decarcerating the prison population is a priority.

There are 14,122 inmates — less than 10% of the federal prison population — in 12 contracted federal private prisons nationwide. The one in North Carolina, the 1,450-bed Rivers Correctional Institution, is a low-security, all-male facility in the Hertford County town of Winton, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

But the DOJ already decided not to renew the contract with Rivers last year, according to Business Wire. The contract will expire March 31, 2021.

The BOP website stated that the majority of BOP inmates in private prisons are criminal aliens who may be deported upon completion of their sentence. For Rivers, that’s the majority of its prison population. The rest, around 160, were District of Columbia Code offenders, many of whom have mental health issues and are going through a reentry program.

The owner of Rivers, The GEO Group, Inc., runs 9 of the 12 federal contract prisons. The facility will transfer the federal inmates and lay off 336 positions, according to the company. The GEO Group is a Florida-based company founded in 1984, according to its website.

A 2016 DOJ Inspector General report cited a problem with contraband and violence at Rivers. The report also noted higher safety and security incidents per capita than at public prisons run by the BOP. The report led to a memo issued by former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to reduce contracts with private prisons, according to the GEO Group. But the Trump administration quickly reversed the decision and renewed the contracts.

The ACLU released a statement supporting the move by the Biden administration, saying “Prison privatization increases the potential for mistreatment and abuse of incarcerated people, and this move by the Biden administration will start curtailing this insidious practice.” But the civil-rights organization also called for more action against prison profiteering of other players, including for-profit prison health care companies and private prisons contracted with the Department of Homeland Security. A national advocacy group, the Detention Watch Network, reported widespread abuse, medical neglect, poor quality of food and sanitation, language access concerns, as well as lack of accountability in private prisons contracted with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the DHS.

A GEO Group spokesperson released a statement, calling the executive order “a solution in search of a problem.” The statement said that the BOP had already announced steps over the last four months not to renew expiring contracts with private companies, “President Biden’s Executive Order merely represents a political statement, which could carry serious negative unintended consequences, including the loss of hundreds of jobs and negative economic impact for the communities where our facilities are located, which are already struggling economically due to the COVID pandemic.”

The GEO Group spent more than $1.5 million in lobbying in 2019 and contributed over $1.4 million in the 2020 election cycle, including $11,010 to Sen. Thom Tillis, $10,000 of which came from the company PAC, according to campaign finance research group the Center for Responsive Politics.