RALEIGH — Republicans in the North Carolina House filed a bill last week that would require sheriffs in the state to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (known as ICE) when they request immigrants charged with crimes be held and transferred into their custody.
With many Democrats at the national level backing an “abolish ICE” movement, some North Carolina sheriffs in urban counties ran on the issue to appeal to their voters.
“Several sheriffs in North Carolina aren’t communicating with their fellow law enforcement officers about the detention of illegal immigrants accused of crimes,” Rep. Destin Hall (R-Caldwell), the lead primary sponsor of H.B. 370, said in a press release. “These sheriffs are putting politics ahead of public safety.”
The issue was brought to the public’s attention as opposition to 287(g) agreements with ICE has grown among Democrats. Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act allows state and local law enforcement to be deputized in enforcing federal immigration law.
“287(g) is a voluntary program, and sheriffs can choose to participate or not,” said ACLU NC spokesperson Susanna Birdsong to North State Journal. “Sheriffs not just in North Carolina, but in other parts of the country, made the decision recently to end or not to renew their participation with ICE in the form of the 287(g) agreements.”
Examples include newly-elected sheriffs Gerald Baker in Wake County and Gary McFadden in Mecklenburg County, who ran in part on ending participation with ICE detainers through 287(g). Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead also ran on the issue and has recently reiterated his opposition to ICE activity in the state.
“The recent actions of ICE agents are making persons, in our community, afraid of law enforcement,” Birkhead said in a recent statement. “The decision I made to not honor ICE detainers was in part to help ALL of Durham’s people feel safe and encourage our residents to feel like they can trust my deputies, and law enforcement in general.”
In addition to Durham, Wake and Mecklenburg sheriffs are ending their 287(g) agreements with ICE, with Forsyth and Henderson counties following suit.
After raids in Charlotte and the Raleigh-Durham area, ICE press statements made clear the more visible arrests of over 200 people was a direct result of the counties’ decision to end cooperation with their efforts.
“The reality is now given that the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Department will no longer cooperate with ICE, ICE has no choice but to send its officers into the community, into neighborhoods, into workplaces to make those same arrests,” said ICE spokesman Brian Cox on an NPR radio program.
Supporters of breaking ties with ICE say the crackdown was more like retaliation.
“We absolutely think this was retaliatory against what local sheriffs have done in recent months to end their cooperation with ICE,” Birdsong of ACLU NC told NSJ. “You’re seeing a kind of flexing of their muscles in responding to that with these raids.”
Over 30 House Republicans have co-sponsored House Bill 370, including primary sponsors Hall, Brenden Jones (R-Columbus), Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), and Carson Smith (R-Pender). The N.C. House Speaker, Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), was one of the co-sponsors as well.
“If the law-abiding citizens of North Carolina are subject to enforcement of state and federal law, then illegal immigrants detained for committing crimes should be too,” Moore said in a press release.
The bill would require any county jail or detention center hold an immigrant charged with a crime if requested by ICE. If the person was reporting a crime, a witness to a crime, a victim of a crime or can show their legal status, this law would not be applied.
Private citizens can bring legal action against their county if they believe the law isn’t being properly enforced, and civil penalties can also be assessed. Administrators will be required to maintain a record of all requests for holds from ICE as well as how they were resolved.
H.B. 370 was sent to the House Judiciary Committee, and if passed, will be sent to the House Local and State Government Committee, and if passed will end in the House Rules Committee.