Sheriff opposes bill, honors ICE detainers
Sunday, June 30, 2019
A proposed state law that directs county sheriffs to check immigration records of all jail inmates and recognize federal requests to hold them erodes local authority, Pitt County’s sheriff said.
The state Senate on Monday approved House Bill 370, which responds to several recently elected sheriffs who no longer comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers. The detainers ask that people who may be in the country unlawfully be held up to 48 hours. Compliance is now voluntary.
Local Sheriff Paula Dance said Pitt County always has and will continue to honor ICE detainers, but she doesn’t support the bill, currently under consideration by the state House.
“My opposition against it — although I honor detainers — is it erodes the authority of the sheriff in each county. When we begin to chip away at the authority of the sheriff, then eventually at some point in time ... that authority will no longer be there.”
Dance said she doesn’t feel that any particular group is being targeted by the bill and that the sheriff’s office does not discriminate.
“Whether that person is from Ghana or Mexico, if they’re from anywhere in the world and they are not legal residents here and are here illegally, then that phone call will be made to ICE.”
Her suggestion to those who are in Pitt County illegally is not to commit a crime.
“I suggest everybody not commit a crime, which is a win-win situation for everybody,” Dance said. “Crime goes down, and we don’t have to worry about the detainers and calling ICE. You shouldn’t be here illegally, but if you are, don’t commit a crime.”
Nearly all of the state’s 100 county sheriffs voluntarily comply with ICE detainers upon people charged with state crimes, the Associated Press reported. Those documents aren’t actual criminal arrest warrants, but if accepted, give ICE up to 48 hours to pick up suspects.
Several black Democratic county sheriffs — most from metropolitan areas — have refused to comply, saying it diverts resources and doesn’t promote community safety. Some ran last year on ending voluntary cooperation with ICE.
Dance, also a black Democrat who was elected in November, said during her campaign that she would comply.
The bill also demands that no matter how minor a suspect’s alleged crime is, sheriffs must check the records of anyone jailed to see if they are sought by federal immigrant agents. Sheriffs who don’t comply would be removed from office, even though they are elected by county residents.
Sheriff Garry McFadden of Mecklenburg County, the state’s largest county, said legislators have been using “code words” like “urban sheriffs” and “sanctuary sheriffs” to highlight their partisan and racial makeup.
The bill represents a “clear agenda against the newly elected African American sheriffs, to erode the powers of the sheriff’s office that we individually hold,” McFadden said.
Other opponents say due process problems remain that make the bill unconstitutional because the suspects would be held without a warrant even after meeting other release terms. The judge or magistrate would issue the order simply if the official determines the prisoner is the same person subject to a detainer.
Bill proponents have highlighted a Mecklenburg County case to support the necessity for the bill. A suspect arrested twice on local charges last month related to domestic violence was released, only to be arrested by ICE soon after. But advocates for immigrants and their allies said the measure will discourage victims of crime who are in the country unlawfully from alerting law enforcement for fear they also will end up getting arrested and deported.
“How many victims of domestic violence will never come forward if we pass this?” asked Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus of Mecklenburg County. “If you listen to the experts who work in this field, they will tell you hundreds.”