The North Carolina Senate passed legislation Thursday mandating all North Carolina sheriffs cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency that issues detainers to remove noncitizens who have been arrested for felonies or violent misdemeanor criminal activity. The bill passed 28-16 along party lines. 

“You can vote for public safety or you can vote to continue sanctuary policies,” Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, said on the Senate floor. “When I was in this body before, we were pursuing this legislation for stubborn hard-headed sheriffs that did not want to comply and follow federal immigration laws and did not want to work with ICE. Most sheriffs are totally on board with this policy. Most sheriffs comply, but we have a few that don’t want to.”

House Bill 10 passed the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2023 71-44, with just two Democrats voting in favor; Rep. Cecil Brockman, D-Guilford, and Rep. Michael Wray, D-Northampton. Both Democrats have been targeted by Democrat activists as a result of that vote and others in which they sided with Republicans.

When the bill became active in the Senate this spring, Newton proposed an amendment to change the date of when sheriffs offices will begin tracking detainer orders to October 1, 2025, rather than October of 2024. Now the legislation will return to the House side for concurrence with the amended bill.

As Senate committees considered the bill earlier this week, opponent activists lobbied lawmakers in the legislative buildings. The vocal minority belies a recent Carolina Journal poll that found 25% of North Carolina likely voters labeled immigration as the most important issue in light of elections this November.

ICE can request detainers against noncitizens who have been arrested for criminal activity. An immigration detainer asks local police departments to notify ICE when a criminal alien is going to be released from custody as ordered by a judge. Instead of releasing them, the detainers allow time for ICE agents to arrive and take custody for deportation in accordance with federal law.

See also: Immigration No.1 issue for NC voters. What about your local sheriff?

According to the federal Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), most North Carolina sheriffs cooperate with ICE detainers. However, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, half a dozen North Carolina counties have regulations or policies that obstruct immigration enforcement and shield criminals from ICE: Orange, Durham, Mecklenburg, Wake, Buncombe, and Forsyth.

Senators also amended the bill to better address enforcement. The approved amendment allows any person, including a federal agency, to file a complaint with the North Carolina attorney general alleging a sheriff failed to comply with the law. The attorney general can then seek a court order to enforce the law against sanctuary sheriffs. Some wonder if partisan politics may come into play, being that current Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat running for governor, has repeatedly refused to cooperate with the legislature. Stein has not addressed it publicly, but his opponent for governor, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, has been vocal about his support for the bill.

The House must now also pass the bill as amended before it heads to the desk of Gov. Roy Cooper. While Cooper has vetoed two similar bills in the past, Republicans hold a veto-proof supermajority in both chambers.

“President Biden’s open border policy has led to a massive influx of noncitizens into our country,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, said in a press release Thursday. “Working with ICE is one of the few tools we have at our disposal. We need all hands on deck, including a willing Attorney General who isn’t afraid to turn over dangerous illegal immigrants.”