Another bill tries to force North Carolina sheriffs to assist ICE

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Republicans are again pressing legislation to force county sheriffs to recognize requests of federal immigration agents who believe a defendant is in the country illegally. But the odds for enactment likely remain the same as in 2019, when Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper successfully blocked a similar measure.

A majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Tuesday for the GOP bill, which largely follows a measure from two years ago waylaid when Cooper vetoed it. The bills are a response to African American Democratic sheriffs in several urban counties who made clear they wouldn’t work closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, unlike predecessors.

“We are a law-abiding society,” Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican and bill co-sponsor, said after the committee vote. “And I believe that our citizens are dependent and would insist that various law enforcement agencies cooperate together to be sure that our laws and are observed and that criminals are brought to justice.”

The bill, which now goes to another committee, mandates sheriffs and other jail administrators to check the immigration status of every person accused of felony drug or violent crimes, and retain any defendant subject to ICE detainers seeking their custody. ICE agents have 48 hours to collect those inmates, or they can otherwise be released under any bond they receive.

Most of the state’s 100 sheriffs comply with detainers, but civil rights groups say they aren’t arrest warrants and therefore can be ignored, as sheriffs in many of the largest counties do. The bill attempts to address that by requiring a judge or magistrate to issue an order to hold the inmate under the detainer rather than direct the sheriff to act unilaterally.

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden told senators that’s not enough. He said ICE agents should be getting a true arrest warrant — signed by a federal judicial official — to take someone into custody, rather than placing the administrative and financial burden upon sheriffs.

“ICE needs to do their job and not expect us to do that job,” McFadden testified online. He said his agency already follows current state law by checking the immigration status of inmates accused of serious crimes.

With his 2019 veto, Cooper said that bill would make it harder for sheriffs to protect citizens from crime and the mandate was likely unconstitutional. Republicans failed to obtain enough votes to override Cooper’s veto. Like two years ago, Republicans still hold state House and Senate majorities, but they aren’t veto proof. Cooper was reelected in November.