Some North Carolina sheriffs, including Mecklenburg County’s, are opposing HB 370, a bill that would require them to cooperate more with federal immigration agents. The proposed legislation would also double the time to 96 hours that those arrested for other crimes and suspected of being in the country illegally, can be held in jail. Noncompliance could result in a sheriff being removed from office.
North Carolina State Sheriffs’ Association officials had concerns about earlier versions of the bill. But at a Senate hearing held on the legislation today, officials gave their support to the revised legislation, saying they are comfortable that it ensures the constitutional rights of those arrested.
“They were open to our earlier concerns and they have been addressed in the bill before you,” said Eddie Caldwell, the association’s attorney. “The sheriffs believe the constitutional rights of the accused and the public safety of the citizens of the state are protected.”
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden and Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers oppose the legislation. Mecklenburg County officials had participated in the federal 287(g) program for more than 10 years. It allowed sheriffs to check inmates' immigration status. McFadden’s first act in office when he was elected last year was to eliminate the department’s participation in the federal program.
In a statement today McFadden said the legislation is a dangerous experiment that goes beyond the issue of immigration.
“It usurps the power of every sheriff and local community to set their own policies,” McFadden said. “It is a move by the General Assembly to chip away at the sheriff’s authority over how we operate our jails. It threatens to undermine the trust between law enforcement and our immigrant communities.”
McFadden’s office is being criticized for releasing a man last month who was accused of domestic violence after immigration officials issued a warrant for him to be held. The man had been deported once and after being released, was arrested soon afterwards for attacking the same woman again. Others say the attacks are politically motivated.
Compliance with ICE-issued warrants and 287(g) had been voluntary in the past, with many sheriff's offices nationwide not participating in the program. State ACLU officials who oppose HB 370 say if the bill passes, local officials could be open to costly lawsuits.
“North Carolina sheriffs and local governments won’t be protected from costly lawsuits under this new bill,” said ACLU spokesperson Mike Meno. “They will be on the hook and legally liable whenever ICE violates someone’s rights so there are glaring constitutional issues when mixing state and federal law.”
In a statement, Guilford County Sheriff Rogers described the legislation as legally flawed. He says it does not allow inmates to appeal being held, after they have been cleared or given bond. He also thinks it would leave his office open to lawsuits and is concerned about the cost of housing and supervising people for ICE held for 96 hours.
During the hearing Wednesday, Republican sponsors of the legislation said it is time to put a stop to sheriffs not wanting to work with ICE agents. They say sheriffs' jobs call them to protect all citizens and that through the legislation, the General Assembly will make sure that they do just that.
Another hearing on HB 370 is scheduled for Tuesday. Meno says if it passes, they will lobby hard for Gov. Roy Cooper to veto it.