The N.C. General Assembly approved legislation this week that would require N.C. sheriffs to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they cannot confirm the immigration status of someone in their custody accused of some serious and violent crimes. The House approved its version of Senate Bill 101 with a 65-47 vote Thursday. It was later approved, with no debate, with a 25-19 Senate vote on Friday. Both votes were along party lines.
The final bill requires that sheriffs check with ICE and determine whether a prisoner in their custody who is accused of a serious felony, assault on a female, assault with a deadly weapon, or domestic violence is in the country legally. The sheriff’s office would hold the detainee for up to 48 hours, or until federal agents take custody. Supporters of the measure say it keeps illegal immigrants accused of violent crimes in custody rather than releasing them back into the community.
Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, is one of the sponsors of the bill and a candidate for Congress in November. Edwards defeated incumbent Rep. Madison Cawthorn in the May primary for nomination in a Republican-leaning district. Edwards has been working this issue for several years and told Senate Rules Committee members that the bill is needed to keep some criminals off the streets.
The measure comes after several sheriffs in N.C. counties refused to cooperate with ICE, including Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, and a sheriff in Edwards’ district, Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re at a point that we have elected law enforcement officers that are simply refusing to abide by their oaths of office, and [who] choose which laws they enforce,” Edwards said on the issue.
Under the bill now headed to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, 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 immigration agents can pick them up, whichever comes first.
ICE estimates that 500 suspected illegal immigrants were released from N.C. jails despite being wanted by federal agents. Democrats in the House have called the bill discriminatory since the issue was first introduced in 2019.
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. Now, the detainees would have to be charged with a serious felony, assault with a deadly weapon, or domestic violence to be detained for a status check.
Rep. Ricky Hurtado, D-Alamance, said it sows distrust in the Hispanic community.
“They recognize that there is a fear and a real danger that if they go and speak to their sheriff they don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Hurtado during floor debate. “I question whether this is the right direction to go, to ensure everyone in North Carolina is safe and can lead a prosperous life.”
Cooper vetoed the 2019 bill.