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Bill forcing NC sheriffs to aid immigration agents revived

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers process immigrants at a detention center in Phoenix.
John Moore
Getty Images
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers process immigrants at a detention center in Phoenix.

Another effort by Republican lawmakers to force North Carolina’s sheriffs to learn the immigration status of their jails' inmates and assist federal agents who want to detain them resurfaced at the General Assembly on Tuesday, more than a year after the legislation passed one chamber.

A House judiciary committee voted along party lines for a Senate measure that is only slightly different from a 2019 measure Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper successfully vetoed. Since the GOP's margins still are not veto-proof, the chances that the latest measure will become law remain low.

Tuesday's measure, which has not changed since it cleared the Senate in March 2021, is a GOP response to Democratic sheriffs in several urban counties who have decided not to work closely with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to identity and hold defendants believed to be in the country illegally.

The bill states that sheriffs and other jail administrators must determine whether any person charged with felony drug or violent crimes have ICE detainers seeking their custody. If a detainer is listed, deputies must take the inmate quickly 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.

Given the recent increase in crime, the bill would “require local law enforcement to work with federal immigration officials in the interest of public safety and growing public concern,” said Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican, congressional candidate and bill sponsor.

Rep. Vernetta Alston, a Durham County Democrat and committee member, questioned the constitutionality of holding alleged offenders using detainers, which is not an arrest warrant. She also brought up the expenses to local jails to hold these defendants.

Several groups advocating for the poor and minority groups remain opposed to the bill, saying it would lead to more deportations of people who are in the country unlawfully.

“We believe that this bill circumvents the local authority of sheriffs,” Stephanie Arteaga with the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina told the committee. “This program perpetuates fear and distrust among immigrant communities and local law enforcement.”

The measure would have to clear one more House committee before it could reach the chamber floor. Legislative leaders are seeking to end this year's chief work session by the end of the week.

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