North Carolina

Cooper vetoes immigration bill focused on North Carolina sheriffs

RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday vetoed a measure directing all sheriffs comply with requests by federal immigration agents to hold inmates they believe are in the country unlawfully -- a day after North Carolina Republicans gave final legislative approval to the bill.

The House voted 62-53 on Tuesday to accept Senate changes to the measure, which responds to a handful of dissenting sheriffs refusing to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the detainers it issues.

[READ MORE: Retooled immigration directive wins over NC sheriffs' group, but not McFadden]

The detainers aren't search warrants, so sheriffs can ignore them. GOP legislators point out recent cases in Mecklenburg County, where violent suspects who were subjects of detainers were released.

The sheriffs "are putting partisan policies ahead of public safety," said bill sponsor Rep. Destin Hall, a Caldwell County Republican, during floor debate. "The citizens of this state deserve public safety. If these sheriffs won't give it to them, we will through this bill."

Cooper released the following statement following his veto:

"This legislation is simply about scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina. As the former top law enforcement officer of our state, I know that current law allows the state to jail and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status. 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. Finally, to elevate their partisan political pandering, the legislature has made a sheriff’s violation of this new immigration duty as the only specifically named duty violation that can result in a sheriff’s removal from office."

"It would be incredibly disappointing if he does not (sign the bill),” North Carolina Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, said Tuesday. “There would be considerable backlash from citizens across the state."

Well over 100 national and North Carolina groups also urged a veto from Cooper, who two months ago called the same legislation now going to his desk unconstitutional. Republicans would need help from several Democrats to override any veto.

For months, ICE has criticized Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden for non-compliance with ICE detainers.

Last week, Channel 9 reported that Oscar Leonardo was deported in 2006 and ICE said he illegally re-entered the U.S. again.

Leonardo was later arrested and accused of sex crimes against children.

Leonardo was released from jail in June after making bond despite ICE’s request to hold him.

Immigration enforcement agents finally tracked down the man from Honduras two months later and placed him in custody.

“Meck is the only one doing this whole bond reform,” bondsman Nico Rodgers said.

The bondsman said it's difficult for bondsmen to know if an inmate has an ICE hold in Mecklenburg County.

"Gaston, Lincolnton, Shelby, all other counties, they are standing still with this ICE hold,” Rodgers said. “They come in, they putting that ICE hold on them. Meck is the only county where you can go online and it won't say if there is an ICE hold."

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The legislation requires the sheriff take a detainer subject to a judge or magistrate, who would issue any order to hold the inmate. The bill also would require sheriffs to check the records of anyone jailed for an alleged criminal offense - not just those accused of serious crimes as current law requires - to see if they are sought by federal immigrant agents.

Sheriffs who don't comply would be removed from office - a possibility that angered some Democrats who say the sheriffs are constitutional officers who ran on ending voluntary cooperation with ICE.

Critics of the measure say the directives will make members of immigrant communities fearful in urban areas of coming forward to report crimes to authorities for fear of deportation. The bill also could lead to costly litigation by people who alleged their due process rights were violated by being held on the detainers, even after meeting other release terms.

"This is unnecessary. It is draconian and will affect and rip apart families across this state," said Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham County Democrat and former District Court judge. "To pass this bill is going to result in many lawsuits that are going to be paid by the taxpayers in their community."

But Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, said the measure properly strikes a balance between protecting a person's assumption of innocence and ensuring the public is protected.

"There comes a time when even someone who is politically elected should be able to put aside politics and do what is right for the public safety," Moore said.

The North Carolina Sheriffs' Association, representing all sheriffs, initially opposed an initial House version of the measure but later backed the bill when language was changed in the Senate.

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