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NC House Could Vote On Bill Making Sheriffs Cooperate Further With ICE


The North Carolina House of Representatives could vote on legislation requiring the state's sheriffs to further cooperate with federal immigration authorities this week.

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said Friday via Twitter that he will call a vote "as early as" this week on the bill, which would force sheriffs around the state to detain inmates suspected of being in the country illegally for retrieval by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Moore's tweet cites a high-profile Charlotte case that comes amid an ongoing disagreement between ICE and Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden.

McFadden's first act in office in December was to stop Mecklenburg's participation in the controversial 287(g) program that involved the sheriff's office reporting the immigration status of inmates to ICE. He also quit honoring "detainers" – requests from the agency to voluntarily detain inmates who are in the country illegally past the time law enforcement typically holds them – instead requiring criminal warrants.

The federal agency has since accused McFadden of putting public safety at risk, but the sheriff has said it's up to the courts to decide the terms of release for inmates in the county.

The back-and-forth heated up again this past week, when ICE announced that a Honduran citizen who had previously been deported had illegally re-entered the U.S., was arrested in Charlotte on charges of first-degree rape and indecent liberties with a minor and then released by the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office.

ICE says agents rearrested 33-year-old Oscar Pacheco-Leonardo on Aug. 9, about two months after he was released from the local jail. In a news release, ICE said it had issued a detainer for Pacheco-Leonardo on June 15, one day after his arrest by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, but that he was released from jail the next day.

“This is yet another example of a clear public safety threat being released onto the streets of Mecklenburg County rather than into ICE custody due to the current sheriff’s policy on ICE non-cooperation,” ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Atlanta Field Office Director Sean Gallagher said in a news release. “The Mecklenburg County sheriff’s decision to restrict cooperation with ICE serves as an open invitation to aliens who commit criminal offenses that Mecklenburg County is a safe haven for persons seeking to evade federal authorities, and residents of Mecklenburg County are less safe today than last year due these policies.”

McFadden, though, says Pacheco-Leonardo paid a $100,000 bond that was set by the court system and that the sheriff's office was required by law to release him. The sheriff said his office wasn't aware Pacheco-Leonardo had re-entered the country after deportation – a felony – at the time of his arrest.

Sheriff Garry McFadden

"ICE chose to issue voluntary ICE administrative detainers on Pacheco-Leonardo, knowing that it is against MCSO’s policy to honor such detainers," McFadden said in a statement. "Based upon Pacheco-Leonardo’s previous deportation, ICE could have but did not seek a criminal arrest warrant for illegal re-entry. The reasons for that decision have yet to be satisfactorily explained to me or to the public. MCSO will always honor a criminal warrant and hold any individual so charged in custody if and until that person has satisfied all court-ordered conditions of release."

The legislation that could come up this week – House Bill 370 – is supported by the North Carolina Sheriff's Association but opposed by McFadden and sheriffs of several other of the state's largest counties. Gov. Roy Cooper has also said he opposes the legislation.

Dash joined WFAE as a digital editor for news and engagement in 2019. Before that, he was a reporter for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia, where he covered public safety and the military, among other topics. He also covered county government in Gaston County, North Carolina, for its local newspaper, the Gazette.