RALEIGH —Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), working with fellow-Republicans in North Carolina’s U.S. House delegation has introduced two bills aimed at sheriffs who refuse to cooperate with federal immigration officials who are seeking assistance in detaining illegal immigrants facing deportation. So-called ICE detainers usually ask local law enforcement officials to keep a subject in custody for up to 48 hours beyond the time they would otherwise be released to allow federal authorities to pick up the subject.
“I think it’s wading into some of the liberal, progressive narrative that these are good people and you shouldn’t be punitive towards them because they’re illegally present,” Tillis said on the reasoning of these sheriffs during a phone interview with NSJ. “But now we’ve got specifics. These are people who have removal orders issued against them. These are not people who are in jail for being illegally present. They’re in jail because they committed a crime after they violated our border laws.”
In a recent example of how this dynamic is playing out in North Carolina cities, an illegal immigrant who had been released, after the the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office ignored an ICE detainer, was re-arrested by federal officials on Nov. 4 after a week-long manhunt.
The man, a Mexican national named Jose Barajas-Diaz, was arrested originally for driving while impaired and felony death by motor vehicle on January 29, 2019 by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police. According to ICE, they submitted an immigration detainer the next day, asking that when he is released, he is done so into their custody. The Mecklenburg County sheriff, Democrat Gary McFadden, refused to cooperate with this detainer request and released him.
“I’m thankful to the ICE officers who enforced our nation’s immigration laws in spite of the local officials who refused to cooperate and made their jobs harder,” said Tillis in a press release soon after the arrest. “It’s becoming increasingly apparent why Congress needs to pass my bills to hold sanctuary jurisdictions like Mecklenburg County accountable and put an end to their dangerous sanctuary policies.”
McFadden, according to Tillis, has released a number of illegal immigrants who were charged with state crimes including murder, rape, indecent liberties with a child, assault and heroin trafficking after ignoring ICE detainer requests.
“They’re illegally present, and then they committed a serious crime,” Tillis said. “This is not hypothetical. These are all cases in North Carolina alone where over 500 people have been released because we’re not cooperating with ICE.”
A common rebuttal from progressives and city sheriffs is that these detainer requests from ICE have dubious legal standing because they aren’t considered legal warrants. Tillis’ bill is meant to address this lack of clarity.
“We heard a few jurisdictions saying that one of the reasons they were having challenges cooperating with ICE was they were being subjected to potential lawsuits because they were holding some of these people that had ICE detainer orders too long,” Tillis said on his recently-proposed bill — the Immigration Detainer Enforcement Act. “So what we wanted to do was just clarify the law to give them a full 48 hours to safely transfer them.”
Tillis said he believes that in many jurisdictions this as an excuse, but he also says, there is “a legitimate concern” and this bill would help avoid lawsuits.
“It’s just providing some clarity,” Tillis said. “What we’re trying to do is just remove any of the legitimate objections any sanctuary jurisdictions would have. Even for cities that don’t have sanctuary policies, this would give them clarity that there would be no doubt they could hold them and honor the detainer request.”
Representative Richard Hudson, a House sponsor of the bill, said in a statement that the bill “is a good step to crack down on sanctuary cities and protect our community from illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds.”
Tillis’ other bill, the Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act, was introduced in July and would create a path for victims of illegal immigrants who were freed by sanctuary policies to sue those jurisdictions.
“I’m not somebody known for wanting to create opportunities for trial lawyers, but if this person become a victim, at least in part, because they released somebody that could be in ICE detention, then there should be consequences for that,” Tillis said.
As an example, Tillis said if someone had been arrested for trafficking heroin, and was then freed rather than given to immigration officials to be deported, someone whose child died of a heroin overdose connected to that person could then sue under this law, saying “If they were in ICE detention, they wouldn’t be trafficking heroin. And we’ve had almost 2,500 people die of heroin overdoses in the last year.”
“It is clear that sanctuary cities’ failure to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement has had a real cost on society, both economically and in terms of human lives,” Rep. Ted Budd, another House sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. He says the bill “allows families and victims of sanctuary city policies to sue the city for failing to comply with detainer requests from ICE.”
Because of the current makeup of the U.S. Congress, Tillis is not hopeful that much can get done immediately in this area. He said that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was too focused on impeachment to do much else. At the state level, Tillis was disappointed that Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have required N.C. sheriffs to honor ICE detainers.
“Roy Cooper is a sanctuary governor, and that’s why he vetoed the legislation on this. He seems to think sanctuary policies are okay,” said Tillis.
Cooper called the bill, which was supported by the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association, “unconstitutional and politically motivated.”