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'Our community is afraid': House Bill 10 faces pushback from Latino immigrant communities

Axel Herrera Ramos, left, with Mi Familia en Acción in North Carolina, speaks at a rally outside the old state Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., involving advocates for the state's immigration community on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Ramos and others spoke in opposition to a measure debated by the General Assembly that would force local sheriffs to comply with requests by federal agents interested in picking up jail inmates believed to be in the country illegally (AP Photo/Gary D. Robertson)
Gary D. Robertson
/
AP
Axel Herrera Ramos, left, with Mi Familia en Acción in North Carolina, speaks at a rally outside the old state Capitol in Raleigh, N.C., involving advocates for the state's immigration community on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. Ramos and others spoke in opposition to a measure debated by the General Assembly that would force local sheriffs to comply with requests by federal agents interested in picking up jail inmates believed to be in the country illegally.

Latino immigrant communities have long posed the most formidable opposition to immigration enforcement bills proposed by Republicans in the North Carolina legislature.

In years past, the community's protests have impacted local elections for sheriffs and played a role in Governor Roy Cooper's decisions to veto some of those bills.

This year, a veto-proof Republican supermajority all but ensures that the latest immigration enforcement bill, House Bill 10, could become law.

Bills like these aren't new — there was House Bill 370 in 2019, and most recently, Senate Bill 101 in 2021. Gov. Cooper vetoed both of them.

"We've worked on building up relationships between law enforcement and the community for a long time,” Antelmo Salazar, an activist based in the town of Henderson, said in Spanish. "But these racist bills are damaging what we've built."

Republican legislators have argued for years that immigrants without legal status who are accused of any crime should be deported. They've proposed that local sheriffs should cooperate by handing over immigrants in their jails to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE.

That's the essence of House Bill 10, and it faces the same criticisms as its earlier versions: residents say it would damage community trust in law enforcement, while others claim it violates the right to due process and Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable seizures.

Many in Latino community are afraid

Salazar leads Henderson Fuerza Activa, or Hendfact, a grassroots immigrant advocacy group. They organized a recent series of immigration law and know-your-rights forums in rural towns in Granville, Vance and Warren counties.

“The purpose of these forums is because our community is definitely afraid,” Salazar said.

Alfredo Hernandez, 41, who migrated from Mexico over 20 years ago, attended the forums.

"If we all got together and tried to make the legislators see that we're a majority and we contribute to the state, they'd realize that we're not here to do any harm," Hernandez told WUNC in Spanish.

Hernandez is undocumented, and he fears being separated from his family if he ever committed even a minor offense.

The Raleigh-based Latino advocacy nonprofit El Pueblo called it another "anti-immigrant bill" that's based on "the false premise that immigrants are a threat to public safety when in reality they are critical to the state's economy."

Latino community residents attend a Spanish-language immigration law forum hosted by Hendfact on May 1, 2024, in the town of Henderson in Vance County.
Courtesy of Hendfact
Latino community residents attend a Spanish-language immigration law forum hosted by Hendfact on May 1, 2024, in the town of Henderson in Vance County.

The Hendfact forums were led by Becky Moriello, an attorney with Raleigh Immigration Law Firm. In her previous experience representing immigrants detained in jail, she said the right to due process was threatened.

“If someone posts a bond while they're in jail and their criminal charge is still pending ... not been found guilty of anything, ICE will pick this person up, denying them their right to fight their criminal charge,” said Moriello. “This is what we saw and this is what I fully anticipate is going to continue happening.”

What the bill says

Current state law requires sheriffs to determine the legal status of people arrested with felony or impaired driving charges, and to notify ICE if they can’t determine it. They’re not required to honor ICE detainers, however.

The bill would force all 100 sheriffs in the state to obey those requests. Under a detainer, suspects can be held an extra 48 hours in jail to allow time for ICE agents to come and take them into federal custody, and eventually deport them.

If enacted into law, it only stands to affect immigrants without legal status who are arrested and held in jail, mostly for violent felonies or serious misdemeanors.

According to the bill's latest summary, the legal status of suspects in jails must be checked with ICE if they're charged with any of the following: homicides, sex offenses, kidnapping, human trafficking, gang charges, felony assault or a class A1 misdemeanor.

An ICE query could then trigger a detainer, and the bill mandates that a state judicial official approve the detainer on a given suspect.

However, ICE detainers could still be issued against any immigrant detained in jails with a criminal offense, violent or not, according to the bill's text.

"We do have immigration laws in this country; ICE (is) largely tasked with enforcing those laws," said bill sponsor Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell. "Somewhere around half of their enforcement is done through detainers.”

Sheriffs speak out

Rep. Hall said the bill is needed because a handful of sheriffs in North Carolina currently decline detainer requests from ICE.

Those are mostly urban Democratic sheriffs, like in Wake, Durham, Mecklenburg and Guilford counties.

The sheriffs of Wake and Mecklenburg, the state's most populous counties, oppose the bill and previously opposed its earlier versions.

"We want to make our communities safer, but HB 10 will make us less safe by fomenting distrust in local law enforcement," Wake County Sheriff Willie Rowe said in a statement. "No one should fear interacting with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office because of their federal immigration status."

Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry McFadden has long been a vocal opponent of bills that propose collaboration with ICE — he's part of a list of 11 sheriffs who signed a public letter opposing the bill.

"If we look at the amount of sheriffs who are in opposition to the bill, these sheriffs are representing over two-thirds of the North Carolina population," said Estefania Arteaga, a Charlotte immigration activist with Carolina Migrant Network. "It's inherently a bill that is not representative of what North Carolinians actually want and need."

The North Carolina Sheriffs Association declined to comment on the bill when contacted by WUNC.

What’s next

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore recently told reporters that the bill will not stall out during negotiations.

Earlier this month, state representatives voted not to accept state Senate amendments made to the bill, which sent the bill to a conference committee.

State senators made a change to the bill that would allow anyone to file a complaint when a sheriff isn't complying with ICE as an "enforcement mechanism," according to Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson. This would trigger an investigation from the N.C. attorney general and potential court action.

The House will need to vote on the bill again after negotiating Senate changes to the bill.

Rep. Hall said the main content of the bill is not expected to change, according to the Associated Press.

Colin Campbell contributed to this story.

Aaron Sánchez-Guerra covers issues of race, class, and communities for WUNC.