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Gov. Cooper vetoes 4 bills, 1 directing sheriffs to aid ICE

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement official stands with his back to the camera as someone is led away by other officials.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed legislation Monday for the second time in four years that would demand North Carolina sheriffs learn the immigration status of their jails' inmates and make an effort to hold those whom federal agents want to pick up.

The Democratic governor vetoed a similar Republican measure in 2019, which came on the heels of newly elected sheriffs in several urban counties deciding against working closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents who are seeking suspects they believe are in the country unlawfully.

Cooper on Monday vetoed four of the final seven bills remaining on his desk from over three dozen the General Assembly sent him in the last days of its work session, which ended July 1. Two bills were signed into law, including state budget adjustments for the coming fiscal year. And the legislature's annual “regulatory reform” act will become law because he said he won't act on it before a midnight deadline.

While the immigration bill given final General Assembly approval last week removed some provisions from the 2019 measure, Cooper said the legislation was still unconstitutional and designed to supersede the ability of sheriffs to manage the safety of constituents, weakening law enforcement.

The legislation “is only about scoring political points and using fear to divide North Carolinians,” Cooper said in his written veto message, adding that as the former attorney general, “I know that current law already allows the state to incarcerate and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status.”

The legislature could attempt a veto override, as when lawmakers planned to reconvene briefly starting July 26.

As with the political environment after the 2019 veto, the GOP's chances to override this Cooper veto seem small. Not a single Democrat voted for the final bill and Republicans lack veto-proof majorities in either chamber. A Cooper veto has not been overridden since December 2018.

Republican supporters of the bill argue people who are in the country unlawfully and committing crimes are turning up as repeat offenders, instead of being returned to their original country.

“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,” Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican, 11th U.S. House District nominee and chief bill sponsor, said in a news release.

The immigration bill would require sheriffs to check whether someone in their jails charged with felony drug or violent crimes is a legal U.S. resident. A sheriff may find out that ICE has issued a detainer, which says the agency wants to pick up someone they believe is in the country unlawfully.

If a detainer is listed, deputies must take the inmate to a local magistrate or judge, who will decide whether to issue an order holding them. The additional hold would give ICE agents 48 hours to pick up the inmate.

Groups representing immigrants and the poor argued the change would make it less likely for immigrants to report crimes, leading to more dangerous communities. They also said voters elected these urban sheriffs because they campaigned on easing aggressive postures against immigrants.

Cooper also vetoed a measure that would shift governance of the state’s two residential schools for the deaf and one for the blind away from the State Board of Education and toward new trustee boards. Legislative leaders would pick four voting members and the governor just one.

That imbalance would make the measure unconstitutional, according to Cooper, and “continues this legislature’s push to give more control of education to boards of trustees made up of partisan political appointees.”

He also vetoed a bill that would allow gun owners seeking to renew their concealed weapons permits to avoid taking another firearms safety and training course if the previous permit had expired up to six months earlier. Cooper called it "yet another way Republicans are working to chip away at commonsense gun safety measures.”

And another vetoed bill would address how child advocacy centers — designed to help provide services to child abuse victims — can receive state funding. Cooper said the bill was well-intentioned but contains “critical flaws” he hoped lawmakers would fix in future legislation.

And the governor said he remained concerned with a provision in the regulatory reform measure he'll let become law because it contained a provision addressing consumer finance companies that could harm borrowers. He said he believed legislators have promised to eliminate the language in the future.

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