RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed legislation Monday for the second time in four years that would demand North Carolina sheriffs learn the immigration status of their jails’ inmates and make an effort to hold those whom federal agents want to pick up.
The Democratic governor vetoed a similar Republican measure in 2019, which came on the heels of newly elected sheriffs in several urban counties deciding against working closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who are seeking suspects they believe are in the country unlawfully.
Cooper on Monday vetoed four of the final seven bills remaining on his desk from over three dozen the General Assembly sent him in the last days of its work session, which ended July 1. Two bills were signed into law, including state budget adjustments for the coming fiscal year. And the legislature’s annual “regulatory reform” bill also will become law because he said he won’t act on it before a midnight deadline.
While the immigration bill given final General Assembly approval last week removed some provisions from the 2019 measure, Cooper said the legislation was still unconstitutional and designed to supersede the ability of sheriffs to manage the safety of constituents, weakening law enforcement.
The legislation “is only about scoring political points and using fear to divide North Carolinians,” Cooper said in his written veto message, adding that as the former attorney general, “I know that current law already allows the state to incarcerate and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status.”
The legislature could attempt a veto override, as when lawmakers planned to reconvene briefly starting July 26.
As with the 2019 veto, the GOP’s chances to override this Cooper veto seem small. Not a single Democrat voted for the final bill and Republicans lack veto-proof majorities in either chamber. A Cooper veto has not been overridden since December 2018.
Republican supporters of the bill argue people who are in the country unlawfully and committing crimes are turning up as repeat offenders, instead of being returned to their original country.
“With the stroke of his pen, Gov. Cooper just gave sanctuary sheriffs permission to shield an illegal immigrant who rapes or murders a North Carolinian,” Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican, congressional candidate and chief bill sponsor, said in a news release.
The immigration bill would require sheriffs to check whether someone in their jails charged with felony drug or violent crimes is a legal U.S. resident. A sheriff may find out that ICE has issued a detainer, which says the agency wants to pick up someone they believe is in in the country unlawfully.
If a detainer is listed, deputies would have to take the inmate to a local magistrate or judge, who will decide whether to issue an order holding them. The additional hold would give ICE agents 48 hours to pick up the inmate.
Groups representing immigrants and the poor argued the change would make it less likely for immigrants to report crimes, leading to more dangerous communities. They also said voters elected these urban sheriffs because they campaigned on easing aggressive postures against immigrants.
The bill “was an effort to rally anti-immigrant sentiments ahead of the upcoming elections. We’re glad the governor did right by his immigrant constituents” and vetoed the measure, El Pueblo Executive Director Iliana Santillian said in a news release.
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden released the following statement responding to Cooper’s veto:
“Once again, I applaud Governor Cooper on the veto of Senate Bill 101. Like its predecessor, House Bill 370; SB101 is unconstitutional and only encourages distrust. It would remove the authority of Sheriffs in North Carolina to make discretionary decisions that all Sheriffs are elected to make on behalf of their constituents.
“It is not the responsibility of local law enforcement to do Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) job. There are however federal laws in place such as 8 U.S.C. § 1325 and 8 U.S.C. § 1326 that can be utilized instead of forcing duly elected Sheriffs to honor voluntary ICE detainers. We are already cooperating and mandated by North Carolina General Statute § 162- 62 to make a query and notify ICE regarding undocumented persons. It remains my belief that Mecklenburg County is a safer community when all members of our community are able to assist law enforcement with investigations and report criminal activity without fear of repercussions so severe as deportation. Contrary to what some may believe, policies do not conceal or shelter undocumented residents from detection. Nor do policies shield undocumented persons from deportation or prosecution for criminal activities. As a law enforcement agency, we will continue to enforce and uphold the law.
“I look forward to the opportunity when all law enforcement agencies, state and federal prosecutors, and the judiciary can come to the table as a collective to establish effective measures and programs that will keep the community safe.”
Cooper also vetoed a measure that would shift governance of the state’s two residential schools for the deaf and one for the blind away from the State Board of Education and toward new trustee boards. Legislative leaders would pick four voting members and the governor just one.
That imbalance would make the measure unconstitutional, according to Cooper, and “continues this legislature’s push to give more control of education to boards of trustees made up of partisan political appointees.”
He also vetoed a bill that would allow gun owners seeking to renew their concealed weapons permits to avoid taking another firearms safety and training course if the previous permit had expired up to six months earlier. Cooper called it “yet another way Republicans are working to chip away at commonsense gun safety measures.”
And another vetoed bill would address how child advocacy centers — designed to help provide services to child abuse victims — can receive state funding. Cooper said the bill was well-intentioned but contains “critical flaws” he hoped lawmakers would fix.
And the governor said he remained concerned with a provision in the regulatory reform measure he’ll let become law because it contained a provision addressing consumer finance companies that could harm borrowers. He said he believed legislators have promised to eliminate the language in the future.
(WATCH BELOW: Meck sheriff: Fingerprinting for gun permits now first come, first served after judge’s order)
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