The Pulse

NC House committee advances “2.0 version” of controversial ICE detainer bill

By: - June 29, 2022 6:00 am
Wake County community organizer Griselda Alonso testified Tuesday with the help of a translator in a House Judiciary committee that a new proposal to involve NC sheriffs in immigration enforcement work would split families apart. Photo: Screenshot from feed.

Members of a House Judiciary committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would require sheriff’s offices across North Carolina to hold people accused of certain serious crimes in jail for up to 48 hours so that they can be taken into custody by federal immigration officials.

The bill continues a debate that stretches back to at least 2019, over whether local law enforcement authorities should cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detainer requests, which essentially ask county jails to continue incarcerating people for 48 hours beyond when they would have otherwise been released, so they can be picked up by ICE. Proponents of the bill framed it as a public safety issue, while opponents warned it would burden already under-resourced county jails and leave them legally liable if they unlawfully detain someone.

Legislators passed a similar bill in 2019. That measure required sheriff’s offices across the state to honor ICE detainer requests. Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed it.

The new proposal, Senate Bill 101, is the “2.0 version” of the 2019 bill, Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-Buncombe) told his House colleagues Tuesday. It is not as wide-ranging as the 2019 bill, Edwards said, as it only requires officials to ask ICE about a person’s immigration status when that individual is “accused of the most heinous crimes and brought to jail.” Unlike the bill from three years ago, it also would not impose criminal penalties against those who do not comply.

“It will require local law enforcement to work with federal immigration officials in the interest of public safety and growing public concerns,” said Edwards.

Sen. Chuck Edwards

Edwards was unable to say whether county governments would be compensated for honoring the ICE detainer requests, but said it costs between $137 and $300 to further incarcerate a person to comply with the detainer.

“I would ask any member of this body to imagine, ‘Would you want to stand in front of a family member of a victim of a crime and tell them the reason that they were subjected to that crime could have been because somebody wanted to save, maybe, $137?’” he asked. “Quite frankly, there will be some cost involved. And I can’t remember the mechanics of who funds that, but I think it’s incidental to the potential danger in our communities.”

Democrats said they were concerned about the measure’s impact on local jails already facing challenges.

“We’re adding work to their offices,” said Rep. Vernetta Alston (D-Durham). “These offices are understaffed. And so we’re adding to their workload, we’re adding to the financial burden for the sheriff’s offices in the counties by undertaking this bill.”

Edwards said that if the requirements laid out in the bill became a financial burden for sheriff’s offices, it “would be an illustration of just how desperately that this bill is needed, because that means that there would be more folks charged with more heinous crimes that would be required to be detained.”

Rep. Vernetta Alston

Rep. Brandon Lofton

The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association supported the 2019 bill, Edwards said, but has not taken a position on the current proposal.

Alston said the bill also raises constitutional concerns, since people will remain in jail for longer than they otherwise would have if they hadn’t been subjected to a detainer. Plus, they could be denied due process in North Carolina courts if they are transferred to immigration detention centers out of state.

Rep. Brandon Lofton (D-Mecklenburg) mentioned 287(g), a voluntary agreement between ICE and local law enforcement agencies that allows local officials to act as federal immigration agents in county jails. A legislative staffer at the hearing stressed that the bill was different from 287(g), but Lofton said there were similarities in that the bill would essentially make it mandatory to comply with certain provisions. He also said it was telling that just 15 out of 100 counties across North Carolina voluntarily participate in the program.

“I think it’s based on harmful stereotypes,” said Lofton.

Others warned that the bill could put local officials at risk of violating people’s constitutional rights, forcing them to pay settlements for people who are unlawfully detained.

Rep. Mary Belk

“I am concerned that there is no way for us to protect our sheriffs or our corrections department from being hauled into federal civil court and forced to pay settlements for wrongful detention because Immigration and Customs has made a mistake,” said Rep. Mary Belk (D-Mecklenburg). “I don’t see why we should put these agencies who are already experiencing shortages of personnel and resources in a position where they need to spend resources to assist federal immigration officials and then pay for any mistakes that they have made as well.”

Two members of the public spoke against the bill before lawmakers advanced it. Griselda Alonso, a community organizer in Wake County, said the measure would split families apart, and warned there would be political consequences if the bill passes.

“Many of us have children and family members who can vote, and although some of us can’t cast the ballot, we can influence our community to vote in favor of keeping our families together,” Alonso said through a translator.


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Kelan Lyons
Kelan Lyons

Investigative Reporter Kelan Lyons writes about criminal and civil justice, including high-profile litigation, prison and jail conditions, housing, and the challenges people face when they leave prison.