Backed by North Carolina Republican lawmakers, a bill that would require local sheriff's offices to hold immigrant defendants in county jails is advancing through the General Assembly. The move comes after newly elected sheriffs have come through on campaign promises to sever ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
What Is House Bill 370?
House Judiciary members voted 17-9 along party lines to advance HB 370, which would require sheriff's to honor ICE "detainers" — ICE requests to detain inmates who are found to be in the country illegally for 48 hours, past the time local law enforcement is obligated to hold them. The policy as it stands now is voluntary, but sheriff's in some cities and surrounding areas around the state have made clear they won't honor them.
What About Mecklenburg County?
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden was one of the newly elected officials to break ties with ICE. Answering calls from the immigrant community during his campaign, McFadden ended the county's voluntary participation in the controversial 287(g) program.
[Related Content: How Sheriff's Office Deals With ICE Post-287(g)]
A quick reminder: Under the 287(g) program, sheriff's deputies would run inmates' information through a federal database to determine if they were in the country illegally. If they were, the office would then notify ICE and hold inmates until agents could take them into custody and begin deportation proceedings.
According to Becca O'Neill, an attorney who contracted with the sheriff's office to help end its participation in the 287(g) program, the office under McFadden no longer honors ICE detainers. She made that clear while answering questions in a Charlotte City Council immigration committee meeting last week:
"So ICE holds no longer exist in Mecklenburg County?" Council member Matt Newton asked her.
"No, they shouldn't," O'Neill answered. "Call me if you hear something."
But the sheriff's office would be forced to honor detainers if the legislation becomes law.
What Are Republican Lawmakers Saying?
Bill sponsor Rep. Destin Hall of Caldwell County told Spectrum News last week that this bill "doesn't require sheriff's offices to do the job of ICE" it just requires them to "simply notify ICE, let them know that they have someone there that they suspect is an illegal immigrant and let ICE do their job and let them enforce federal immigration law."
Hall said he believes there's a need for a state-mandated requirement to check the recent actions of urban sheriff's offices.
"There are some dangerous criminals being released on our streets because of the policy of these Sanctuary Sheriffs," Hall said.
He said Republican lawmakers worked with ICE to craft the bill, and modeled it largely off of one passed in Texas last year.
"We're confident that this bill is constitutional," Hall said, "And we're confident that it will protect the public safety and we think that we need to move it as quickly as possible."
What Are Advocates Saying?
Immigrant advocates opposed the bill. The ACLU of North Carolina is urging lawmakers to reject what it calls "extreme anti-immigrant agenda."
Advocates are calling on Gov. Roy Cooper to veto the measure should it come across his desk.