Gov. Roy Cooper now controls the fate of a bill that would require North Carolina sheriffs to comply with certain requests from federal immigration agents.
In a 62-53 vote on Tuesday, N.C. House members largely voted along party lines to approve a bill that will require sheriffs and other law enforcement officials to honor detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE. The Senate approved the bill in June.
The vote ends the legislature’s summer-long debate over a bill that pitted Republicans against Democrats, civil rights advocates against tough-on-crime lawmakers, and urban sheriffs against the N.C. Sheriffs Association.
Republican lawmakers introduced House Bill 370 less than a year after several of North Carolina’s largest and most-liberal counties elected sheriffs who campaigned on the promise of cutting ties with ICE. Sheriffs from counties such as Mecklenburg, Wake, Durham, Buncombe and others no longer listen to ICE requests to detain some immigrants beyond the terms of their jail sentences.
Those requests, known as ICE detainers, aren’t valid warrants. So holding a person beyond the terms of his or her jail sentence could leave sheriffs open to legal action, bill opponents have said.
Under HB 370, sheriffs who receive an ICE detainer request would be required to take the person in question before a “state judicial official.” That official would then decide whether to allow continued detention of the inmate.
The Democratic governor hasn’t said specifically that he’d veto the bill, but has called it unconstitutional and unnecessary. If the House voted the same way as it did Tuesday, it wouldn’t be able to override a veto from Cooper.
While the NC Sheriffs’ Association supports the bill, the sheriffs who cut ties with ICE oppose it. And some of those sheriffs — specifically, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden — have been singled out and slammed by Republicans as legislators considered the bill.
That trend continued Tuesday on the House floor. NC Rep. Destin Hall, a Caldwell County Republican and sponsor of the bill, mentioned McFadden as he told the story of Oscar Pacheco Leonardo. On June 14, Pacheco was arrested in Charlotte on charges of first-degree rape and indecent liberties with a minor. On June 16, he was released after paying a $100,000 bond before ICE officers arrested him on Aug. 9.
Not only did McFadden ignore ICE, Hall claimed, he “didn’t even pick up the phone and say ‘hey, this guy’s charged with serious crimes.’” Hall suggested that McFadden and others who have cut communication with ICE are “to the left of Barack Obama.”
McFadden has previously said the bill would “negatively impact public safety,” override the will of the voters who elected him and erode the “constitutional authority” of sheriffs like him. Asked what he’ll do if HB 370 becomes law, a McFadden spokesperson said he is “sworn law enforcement and will always follow the law.”
Meanwhile, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Office “may consider” filing an action for a court to determine if honoring an ICE detainer is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, said James Secor III, the sheriff’s attorney.
Debating the bill
Democrats oppose the bill on grounds that it’s judges and magistrates — not sheriffs — who set inmates’ terms of release. They argued that sheriffs violate a person’s civil rights by holding them after they’ve met their conditions for release. And they suggested the General Assembly shouldn’t be micromanaging sheriffs who have been elected by the residents they serve.
Democrats also asked Republicans how they’d feel if the situation were somehow reversed.
Rep. Scott Brewer, a Richmond County Democrat and former judge, emphasized that ICE detainers aren’t binding warrants and asked his Republican colleagues: What would they think if a sheriff or any government agent seized their guns “and kept them for 48 hours?”
The bill includes a process citizens can follow to remove sheriffs who aren’t upholding the law. Rep. Robert Reives, a Chatham County Democrat, asked: Would you allow citizens to use a similar process to remove state legislators?
“Their jobs are tough enough without us sitting on their shoulders telling them how to do it,” Reives said, referring to sheriffs.
In defense of the bill, Republicans said they have a duty to protect North Carolina’s citizens. They said the bill only affects immigrants already wanted for deportation. And they pushed back at the idea that detaining people wanted by a federal agency violates those people’s rights.
Rep. Brenden Jones, a Columbus County Republican, suggested the legal ramifications are worth the risk.
“If it keeps one person from being assaulted again, one person from being murdered ... because we inconvenienced a criminal for 48 hours, I’ll take that,” Jones said.