RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) – A Republican-led effort in North Carolina to counter illegal immigration and “sanctuary sheriffs” advanced Wednesday when a state House panel approved a bill that would force sheriffs in the state to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests.
The North Carolina House Judiciary Committee passed legislation Wednesday requiring sheriffs in all of the state’s 100 counties to report the legal status of inmates to the federal government.
The controversial House Bill 370 states that for anyone who is detained for any period of time under a criminal offense or an impaired driving charge, the person responsible for the facility must determine the prisoner’s residency status through questioning or through an examination of documents.
The bill also implores sheriffs to fulfill ICE detainer requests that can be used to hold suspects up to 48 hours. That means that after a person is cleared to be released from a county jail or another local confinement facility, law enforcement officials would be obligated to continue detaining that person if ordered to do so by ICE.
The bill would create fines of up to $25,000 per day for counties that don’t carry out the detention requests from ICE.
In a significant 2013 ruling, the Third Circuit noted “all courts of appeals to have commented on the character of ICE detainers refer to them as ‘requests’ or as part of an ‘informal procedure.’”
North Carolina officials can interpret them in that way – as informal requests. But if the new bill becomes law, the detainer requests would be anything but informal.
Still in an early stage, the bill has to clear the House State and Local Government and Rules and Operations committees before going to the House floor.
Members of the public spoke during Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee meeting and all of them opposed the ICE cooperation rules, but it still passed 17-9 along party lines with all Democrats dissenting.
Sheriffs that were elected last year to serve the state’s two most populous counties, Mecklenburg and Wake counties, cut ties with ICE by ending a policy that notifies the federal agency about the legal status of inmates in county jails.
“These sanctuary sheriffs are putting politics ahead of public safety,” bill sponsor Representative Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, said Wednesday.
The bill is also backed by House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland.
Among the sheriffs who have decided to end their cooperation with ICE are Garry McFadden in Mecklenburg County, Gerald Baker in Wake County and Durham County’s Clarence Birkhead.
“It is unfortunate that ICE is now becoming more active in North Carolina, specifically in Durham,” Birkhead said in a statement. “The recent actions of ICE agents are making persons in our community afraid of law enforcement.”
Mecklenburg and Wake counties were two of 78 counties nationwide that had a voluntary arrangement with ICE, which began in 2006.
Sean Gallagher, ICE’s Atlanta field office director, said in a statement after Mecklenburg County’s decision to end cooperation that the decision “serves as an open invitation to aliens who commit criminal offenses that Mecklenburg County is now a safe haven for persons seeking to evade federal authorities.”
The 287(g) program that McFadden did away with required local deputies to check a federal database to determine if any inmates are living in the county illegally. If any were found to have immigrated illegally, they were held until ICE could detain them and begin a deportation process.
McFadden’s office sent out a statement in response to the comments made by Gallagher that pledges the sheriff’s commitment to keeping the community safe.
“If ICE is interested in addressing violent crimes committed by all citizens and not just those committed by immigrants, Sheriff McFadden would embrace the opportunity to work with ICE,” the statement reads.
Two hundred people were arrested by ICE officials in Mecklenburg County in the course of a week in February, and an activist told reporters at the time that ICE officials see the arrests as a “new normal” because McFadden is not cooperating with federal immigration enforcement.
“To suggest that dangerous people are suddenly walking out of jail because of the termination of the 287g policy is engaging in cynical fear mongering,” McFadden said last month.