The state Senate has passed a new version of a bill that would require N.C. sheriffs to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, two years after Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a similar effort.
The new bill, however, has a major concession: It only requires sheriffs to hold suspected illegal immigrants for ICE agents if the person is in jail on suspicion of committing a violent crime.
Sheriffs, who run the jails in their counties, are already required to check the immigration status of people charged with a felony. If they can’t determine whether the person is a legal resident, sheriffs must check with ICE.
Under Senate Bill 101, sheriffs would also need to determine whether a prisoner is in the country legally if they are accused of violent misdemeanors like assault on a female or assault with a deadly weapon, or charged with violating a domestic protection order.
Then, if the prisoner has a detainer and administrative warrant from ICE, sheriffs would need to hold on to them for 48 hours or until federal immigrations agents can pick them up, whichever comes first. A judge would first need to rule the detainer is valid.
The goal, Senate leaders say, is to keep illegal immigrants accused of violent crimes in custody rather than release them back into the community.
The bill passed by a 27-20 vote in the Senate along party lines, with no Democrats voting in favor of the bill.
“I cannot fathom how anybody could support shielding an illegal immigrant who rapes or murders a North Carolinian,” Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) said in a statement. “Removing violent criminals who are here illegally should be a unanimous priority.”
The bill is similar to the ICE bill passed by the General Assembly in 2019. That bill, however, required sheriffs to check the immigration status of people charged with any criminal offense, not just violent crimes.
That bill was in response to numerous blue county sheriffs who announced they were refusing to cooperate with ICE.
Just a few months earlier, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden released an illegal immigrant with an ICE detainer accused of domestic violence. Within a week, he was embroiled in a nine-hour standoff with police after allegedly strangling the same woman.
In total, ICE estimated 500 suspected illegal immigrants were released from N.C. jailed despite being wanted by federal agents.
Cooper vetoed the bill that would fix the problem, calling it unconstitutional and saying it was “about scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina.”
The new bill, known as “Require Cooperation with ICE 2.0,” goes to the House. If it passes there, it would again go to Cooper’s desk — where it would presumably face another veto.
“Reasonable immigration laws like this used to be a shared priority among Republicans and Democrats,” said Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, in a statement. “Now, the Democratic Party’s agenda supports shielding murderers and rapists from deportation.”
Andrew Dunn is a freelance writer for Carolina Journal.