Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill Monday that would have required N.C. sheriffs to contact U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they cannot confirm the citizenship status of someone in their custody accused of serious felonies and violent crimes.
This is the second time Cooper, a Democrat, has vetoed similar legislation, although this bill, Senate Bill 101, set a higher bar for a detainee’s charges when compared to the one Cooper vetoed in 2019. This bill applied to detainees charged with a serious felony, assault on a female, assault with a deadly weapon, or domestic violence.
Under S.B. 101, approved along party lines in the closing days of the short legislative session, 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.
“This law is only about scoring political points and using fear to divide North Carolinians,” a statement from Cooper’s office following the veto read. “As the state’s former top law enforcement officer, I know that current law already allows the state to incarcerate and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status. This bill is unconstitutional and weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating that sheriffs do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their ability to protect their counties.”
Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, sponsored the bill 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.
“With the stroke of his pen, Gov. Cooper just gave Sanctuary Sheriffs permission to shield an illegal immigrant who rapes or murders a North Carolinian,” Edwards said in a statement following the governor’s veto. “Keeping violent criminals off our streets should be a shared priority, but this veto proves that Gov. Cooper isn’t interested in increasing public safety if it goes against his liberal donors’ wishes.”
ICE estimates that 500 suspected illegal immigrants were released from N.C. jails despite being wanted by federal agents.
The veto is one of four Cooper stamped on Monday, the last day for his action before the bills would have become law. The others were House Bill 49, Concealed Carry Permit Lapse/Revise Law, which would have allowed gun owners who let their licenses lapse to renew them without taking another concealed carry safety course. He also vetoed Senate Bill 593, Schools for the Deaf and Blind; and House Bill 823, Child Advocacy Centers/Share Information. Monday’s four vetoes give Cooper a total of five for the year. He extends his state record with 75 vetoes since taking office in 2017. No other N.C. governor has vetoed more than 20 bills.