The governor of North Carolina has vetoed a bill requiring sheriffs to comply with detainers from federal immigration agents and to identify whether prisoners are illegal immigrants.
House Bill 370 passed the majority-Republican House along party lines on Aug. 20, before it was vetoed the following day by Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper.
The bill had been tabled following the election of several sheriffs across the state this year who had campaigned on the promise of spurning cooperation with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), forming “sanctuary” counties.
Under the new law, local deputies would have had to determine whether prisoners were legally present in the United States and to comply with ICE detainer requests.
The bill also would have essentially banned city and county authorities from preventing law enforcement from carrying out these new requirements.
Cooper said in a statement that the “unconstitutional” legislation was simply about scoring “partisan political points.” He said that current laws are enough to allow the state to “jail and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration.”
Cooper said that the legislation weakened law enforcement by “mandating sheriffs to do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their abilities to protect their counties.”
North Carolina Republicans, who oppose sanctuary policies, do not have a large enough majority to override the veto.
They too accused the opposition of playing partisan politics.
Rep. Destin Hall (R) wrote in a statement on Twitter that the House Democrats voting against the bill was “another sad example of how far left the Democratic Party has gone.”
When Cooper blocked the bill, he wrote, “North Carolina officially has a Sanctuary Governor. Roy Cooper just vetoed H370, which would have simply required Sheriffs to honor ICE detainers for illegal immigrants charged with crimes in our state.”
North Carolina officially has a Sanctuary Governor. Roy Cooper just vetoed H370, which would have simply required Sheriffs to honor ICE detainers for illegal immigrants charged with crimes in our state. #ncpol pic.twitter.com/07gmbjiPwn
— Rep. Destin Hall (@DestinHall) August 21, 2019
After rejecting an earlier version of the bill, the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association swung behind it when provisions that would have given ICE wide-ranging access to inmates and records were dropped, reported The News & Observer.
Eddie Caldwell, general counsel for the sheriffs’ group, said in a news release that they were satisfied the bill would “protect the 4th Amendment due process rights of the person in custody while providing maximum public safety for the community.”
During the bill debates, Republicans cited the example of a man who was arrested in Mecklenburg County, released after posting bond, and was later captured by ICE.
“Instead of signing this common-sense bill, Governor Cooper is choosing to side with sheriffs like the Mecklenburg County Sheriff who in June ignored an ICE detainer request on a man in custody for rape and child sex offense charges and released this dangerous individual back into the community,” Sen. Chuck Edwards, told the News & Observer.
Mecklenburg County is one of six counties in the state recognized as sanctuaries for illegal immigrants, along with hundreds of cities, counties, and states across the country.
So-called sanctuary policies use various means to frustrate requests from ICE to local law enforcement called “detainers.”
A detainer asks local law enforcement to notify immigration officials before an illegal alien is due to be released from jail. A detainer also provides authority for local law enforcement to detain them for up to 48 hours after their jail sentence has expired, to give ICE time to take custody.
Sanctuary laws typically target the legal framework that underpins detainers, in same cases opening up deputies to potential legal action if they cooperate with the ICE request.
Meanwhile, ICE has set up a program that allows deputies to arrest incarcerated illegal aliens on behalf of ICE in a sanctuary policy workaround, rolled out for the first time in Florida in May.
Pinellas County on May 6 became the first Florida county to sign up for the Warrant Service Officer program (WSO), which gives deputized officers limited powers to act as ICE agents.
According to ICE, several other jurisdictions have shown interest in the program, which trains officers to serve federal warrants and hold jailed aliens for up to 48 hours before they are picked up by federal authorities.
“WSO officers will only make arrests within the confines of the jail at which they work, and ICE will still issue immigration detainers with partner jurisdictions,” said ICE.
WSO was developed at the request of the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Major County Sheriffs of America to “allow jurisdictions prohibited from honoring immigration detainers to cooperate with ICE,” according to a statement by ICE.
The WSO program is also intended to provide extra resources to rural counties which would otherwise struggle to cooperate with ICE requests.
“Policies that limit cooperation with ICE undermine public safety, prevent the agency from executing its federally mandated mission and increase the risks for officers forced to make at-large arrests in unsecure locations,” said Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence in a statement.
“The WSO program will protect communities from criminal aliens who threaten vulnerable populations with violence, drugs and gang activity by allowing partner jurisdictions the flexibility to make immigration arrests in their jail or correctional facility.”
“Sheriff’s deputies will be trained and certified by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to serve federal warrants on undocumented inmates…. ICE plans to expand the WSO program to the rest of the state and, eventually, the country.”https://t.co/fb9szSyJm2
— Mark Mendlovitz (@MendlovitzMark) May 7, 2019
WSO officers will not question individuals about their citizenship, alienage or removability, nor will they process aliens, according to ICE.
The WSO program has been criticized by activists groups that support sanctuary policies as part of ICE’s “deportation agenda.”
But local law enforcement say the program is very limited in scope.
“The majority of people we’re going to deal with in this program come here to commit crime,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told Fox news. “They don’t [just] come here and they’re illegal and—whoops—they get caught.”