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Tillis, Grassley Unveil New Bill In Immigration Fight With Sheriffs

Steve Harrison/WFAE
NC Republican Senator Thom Tillis spoke Friday about his Immigration Detainer Enforcement Act.

In a continuation of his fight against Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry McFadden, North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis today announced new legislation that he said would make it easier for local enforcement to honor detainer requests from the federal government.

Tillis and Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley spoke in Charlotte about the “The Immigration Detainer Enforcement Act.”

Republicans have repeatedly criticized McFadden for his decision to withdraw from the 287(g) program and his refusal to keep people in jail at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

McFadden has said that, once a suspect has met bail, that person is free to leave, and that holding them in jail would be illegal - even if ICE makes a formal request to hold them, called a detainer.

Tillis said his legislation would protect the Mecklenburg sheriff’s office – and local enforcement nationwide.

It would give “explicit authority” to hold people who are in the country illegally for up to 48 hours, if the federal government asks them to. And it would indemnify local law enforcement from wrongful detention claims for keeping undocumented people in jail.

Tillis was asked whether it’s fair to keep someone in jail – if they have met the requirements a judge has set for their release.

"Is it fair to hold an alleged murderer, heroin trafficker, someone who has been accused of taking indecent liberties with a child for a 48-hour period who’s illegally in the country and is a deportable illegal alien?" Tillis answered. "Yeah, I think that’s fair."

The first-term senator – who is up for re-election in 2020 – said it’s safer for ICE to be able take someone in jail, rather than having to arrest them on the street.

"Just because they got released from the Mecklenburg jail doesn’t mean they don’t pursue them – now they have to pursue them in the community, in a more dangerous setting," he said.

McFadden couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham said in an interview this week that he trusts local law enforcement’s decisions on public safety.

Three North Carolina Republican congressmen – including Dan Bishop of Charlotte – plan to introduce similar legislation in the House.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.