A bill that would mandate all North Carolina sheriffs cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement was approved by the Senate Committee on Judiciary on Tuesday, positioning the proposal one step closer to becoming law. 

House Bill 10 passed in the House chamber last year at the lead of primary sponsor Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell. During Tuesday’s meeting, Hall explained to senators considering the legislation that a detainer is a common public safety tool that ICE uses to remove noncitizens who have been arrested for criminal activity. He said around 90 sheriffs in North Carolina voluntarily cooperate with ICE detainers, which have been around since the 1950s. However, a small number of sheriffs in what are colloquially-labeled ‘Sanctuary Counties’ disregard ICE detainer requests. 

“As everyone knows, there’s a small number of sheriffs, probably somewhere around 10 or so now, who don’t honor ICE detainers,” said Hall. “And in fact, in many cases, according to folks at ICE and others, some sheriffs simply don’t even communicate with ICE at all. It is a common-sense bill. I’ve been dealing with this issue now for five or six years, and it still, to me, is amazing that we even have to have a bill like this. It seems to me to be common sense that law enforcement should cooperate with one another and their first goal should be public safety.”

Following Hall’s introduction, a range of speakers spoke out in favor and against the bill. Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page fully cooperates with ICE and honors any detainers filed. He spoke before the committee in support of the bill, mentioning the preventable death of Georgia college student Laken Riley, who was murdered by an illegal immigrant who’d been released after arrest. 

On the other hand, several speakers representing NC Justice Center, El Pueblo, and a spokesperson on behalf of Wake County Sheriff Willie Rowe denounced the bill.

“I was 10 years old when I first learned what it meant to be undocumented,” said Andressia Ramirez of NC Justice Center. “It was also when my mother and I created an emergency plan for what I should do if she was ever stopped for driving without a license while taking us to school and was deported.” 

Andressia Ramirez speaks at a hearing of the NC Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, clarified HB 10 would only address criminals in jail for criminal activity. Police departments would be required to hold an individual for up to 48 hours until ICE officials arrive and take custody. 

“This will not impact folks who are stopped for minor traffic offenses,” Britt said. “Without those good hard-working folks in eastern North Carolina, the agriculture industry would shut down, the construction industry would shut down. That’s not what this bill does. This deals with violent offenders who have been deported for violent acts. And I’m thankful that they’ve come forward with this bill once again and hope that we get across the finish line this time.”

ICE officials recently told the Carolina Journal that they enjoy very strong support from the vast majority of North Carolina law enforcement partners. However, a small number of jurisdictions do not work with ICE. In particular, six North Carolina counties have regulations or policies that obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from ICE: Orange, Durham, Mecklenburg, Wake, Buncombe, and Forsyth. While only six counties, those with a policy of non-cooperation with ICE represent much of the state’s largest population centers. 

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Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden is openly against honoring detainers from ICE. In a recent interview with the Carolina Journal, McFadden argued that a detainer is unlawful and forces a police department to bypass a judge’s order. Hall said those concerns about constitutionality are addressed through this bill because it becomes a court order.

“I’ve heard from some of the sheriffs – over and over again – give us a court order, give us a warrant, give us a judicial process,” said Hall. “Well, you have that in this bill.”

McFadden previously told the Carolina Journal that if HB 10 does pass, he will have no choice but to comply with the law. “If it passes and becomes law, we have to abide by the law,” he said. “So imagine, you’re going to create a law to get rid of another law. That makes no more sense.”

The Senate committee also approved an amendment to the draft legislation to provide an enforcement mechanism. It will enable any person, including a federal agency, to file a complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General, alleging that the sheriff or the jail administrator has failed to comply with the rule.

The committee referred the legislation to the rules committee for next steps. Senate Leader Phil Berger’s office has confirmed he is in favor of passing the legislation this session, as data shows North Carolinians’ top issue heading into the 2024 presidential election is immigration.