NC House passes bill requiring sheriffs to cooperate with ICE, just before session’s end

The North Carolina House passed a controversial bill Thursday that would require sheriffs to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement if they charge people with certain high-level offenses and can’t determine their status as a legal resident or citizen.

Senate Bill 101, a revised version of a similar bill that was passed by the Republican-controlled legislature in 2019 but subsequently vetoed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, passed the House just one day before lawmakers were planning to adjourn for the rest of the year.

Activists from immigrants’ rights groups have called on Cooper to veto the bill if it reaches him, and if he does, the chances that lawmakers can override the veto are slim, given the relatively narrow margins by which the bill passed both the House and the Senate.

Under SB 101, sheriff’s departments and other administrators of local jails would be required to inform ICE if officials can’t determine the legal status of someone charged with drug felonies under the N.C. Controlled Substances Act (excluding simple possession or other misdemeanors); homicide; rape or other sex offenses; kidnapping and abduction; human trafficking; certain assault offenses; or violations of a domestic violence protective order.

Speaking in the House Rules Committee earlier Thursday, Sen. Chuck Edwards, one of the bill’s primary sponsors, said the purpose of SB 101 is to “keep criminals off of the street.”

Edwards said he and the other primary sponsors, GOP Sens. Danny Britt of Robeson County and Norman Sanderson of Pamlico County, had worked to address some of the concerns Cooper expressed about the measure he vetoed in 2019, House Bill 370, including narrowing the list of offenses that would trigger ICE involvement to only the “most heinous crimes,” and removing criminal penalties for sheriffs who refused to comply with the bill.

Activists from immigrants’ rights groups who spoke during the public comment period of Thursday’s meeting said the bill advances harmful stereotypes about immigrant communities, and would only lead to further “fear and distrust.” They also criticized Republicans for resurrecting the bill after Cooper’s veto of the earlier proposal.

“We know that not everyone brought into the jail is guilty of the crime they’re being accused of,” said Maria Gonzalez, the policy advocacy manager at El Pueblo. “We know that Black and brown people, which many immigrants are, get racially profiled. Immigrants are not criminals just because we are immigrants, and we do not commit crimes at a higher rate (as) several representatives have stated.”

Questions about financial burden on sheriff’s departments

The bill also requires North Carolina sheriffs to hold certain individuals who ICE indicates it intends to take custody of, for up to 48 hours, or until ICE takes custody of the person or rescinds what it called an “immigrant detainer” — whichever comes first.

Edwards said the additional cost jail officials would incur to hold individuals subject to a detainer or an administrative warrant would be between $10 and $20 per day.

Reps. Carla Cunningham and Becky Carney, both Democrats from Mecklenburg County, said they were concerned that the bill did not include any funds to relieve at least a portion of the additional financial burden on sheriff’s departments. Cunningham also said the cost to house inmates an additional day in Mecklenburg was closer to $40.

Edwards said that even at $40 per day, the additional costs would be a relatively small price to pay to keep someone in custody for, at the most, an additional two days.

For more North Carolina government and politics news, listen to the Under the Dome politics podcast from The News & Observer and the NC Insider. You can find it at https://campsite.bio/underthedome or wherever you get your podcasts.

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