North Carolina bill ordering sheriffs to help immigration agents closer to law with Senate vote

A House bill ordering North Carolina sheriffs and jailers to comply with federal immigration requests to hold an inmate suspected of being in the country illegally passed the state Senate

Makiya Seminera
Thursday 02 May 2024 17:35 BST

Sheriffs would be required to temporarily hold inmates in jail that federal immigration agents believe are in the country illegally under a bill passed by the North Carolina Senate on Thursday.

But unlike two previous versions of the bill successfully shot down by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto in the last five years, the measure stands a strong chance of becoming law thanks to GOP seat gains.

The Senate voted along party lines for the measure in a 28-16 vote. Now the legislation returns to the House, where Speaker Tim Moore said Wednesday he supports the measure and that his chamber could vote on the Senate changes as soon as next week.

An affirmative House vote would send the measure to Cooper, who could veto it again. But GOP supermajority in both chambers since last year means Cooper's veto could be overridden and the bill enacted if Republicans stay united.

The bill, sponsored by several key House leaders, centers around the issue of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers. Those are requests for local law enforcement to notify federal immigration agents about an inmate believed to be in the country unlawfully and maintain custody.

State Republicans have said the need for the bill is apparent as several sheriffs across the state, particularly from Democratic urban counties, haven't cooperated with immigration agents.

“Most sheriffs comply, but we have a few who don't want to,” said Wilson County Republican Sen. Buck Newton on Thursday. “This has been going on for years and years and years that it's reached the point of critical mass.”

Under the proposed changes, all sheriffs or jailers are required to hold inmates accused of serious crimes for up to 48 hours if a detainer is issued. It also mandates the involvement of judicial officials to order law enforcement to hold the inmate in question, according to the bill.

A Senate amendment to the bill would allow anyone to file a complaint with the state Attorney's General Office if they believe a jail administrator is not complying with the law. The legislation would go into effect on July 1.

Senate Republicans used a parliamentary maneuver to table another amendment from Sen. Mujtaba Mohammed, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, that would allow a district attorney to file an objection to a detainer on behalf of a crime victim who seeks prosecution against an inmate in North Carolina. A district judge would have the ultimate say over whether a jail administrator would comply with a detainer request.

“You need to join me in supporting victims of crime and victims of domestic violence and prosecutors across our state by allowing them to seek justice by voting no,” Mohammed said.

Current state law already asks sheriffs or other law enforcement officials to check an inmate’s legal status if they are charged with serious crimes. If the jailer cannot determine someone’s legal status, a query should be sent to ICE.

Two previous iterations of the bill failed to become law in 2019 and 2022 when Cooper vetoed them and Democrats held enough seats to block an override veto.

In response to the legislation, the governor’s office said Wednesday that Cooper was concerned if the bill was constitutional and effective in making communities safer. It would take away authority from sheriffs for “purely political purposes,” spokesperson Jordan Monaghan said.

As with previous bill versions, advocates for Latino immigrants spoke against the mandate in Senate committees this week and during a lobbying day on Wednesday.

They said the requirement would actually make communities less safe by instilling fear into immigrants, especially those who are undocumented, by discouraging them from reporting crimes or building trust with law enforcement.

“The Republican majority in this legislature continues to push forward extreme laws that target immigrants and punishes our community for merely existing,” Axel Herrera Ramos of Durham with the advocacy group Mi Familia en Acción said at a rally outside the old Capitol building. “Don’t tell me it’s about safety.”

At least six states broadly outlaw local agencies' ability to restrict federal immigration law enforcement involvement, National Conference of State Legislatures policy analyst Jay Gideon said in an email. These prohibitions aim to strike down “sanctuary” policies that do not enforce local cooperation with federal immigration agents.

Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp also signed a bill Wednesday requiring jailers to check inmates' immigration status and criminalizes the failure to do so.


Associated Press writer Gary Robertson in Raleigh contributed to this report.

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