North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed a bill that requires sheriffs to detain inmates on behalf of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The veto was swiftly announced Wednesday, coming less than 24 hours after the bill passed the North Carolina House largely along party lines. In issuing the veto, the governor released a statement calling the bill unconstitutional and designed to score political points.
He also said it would weaken law enforcement by requiring sheriffs to divert resources and act as federal agents. Under the bill, county sheriffs could be removed from office if they fail to detain and turn over jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally to federal ICE agents.
"To elevate their partisan political pandering, the legislature has made a sheriff’s violation of this new immigration duty as the only specifically named duty violation that can result in a sheriff’s removal from office," Cooper said in announcing the veto.
The vote came after House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, referenced a Mecklenburg County case in which an inmate who was in the country illegally was released from custody after being charged with rape. But the bill dates back to earlier this year – a push from lawmakers in response to sheriffs in several large counties deciding not to honor detainers.
Republicans lost their veto-proof supermajority in the 2018 elections, but there will likely still be an attempt to force the bill into law.
"Law enforcement officers have a sworn responsibility to protect their citizens and that includes cooperating with federal authorities," Republican state Sen. Chuck Edwards of Henderson County said in a statement. "Unlike Gov. Cooper who prefers to pander to his far left supporters, we will protect North Carolinians and plan to override his irresponsible veto."
Mecklenburg County and Sheriff Garry McFadden have been front and center in the debate.
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.
McFadden on Tuesday night had called on the governor to veto the bill.
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