North Carolina Governor Vetoes ICE Detainer Bill
By State and Local Engagement | September 2019
After more than five months of work by the North Carolina General Assembly to draft and pass legislation requiring law enforcement officials to comply with immigration detainers, Governor Roy Cooper (D) vetoed House Bill (HB) 370 on August 21. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear the Republican-controlled legislature will have enough votes to override his veto.
HB 370 required that when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a detainer request, the local law enforcement officer needed to bring the prisoner before a state judicial official (i.e. magistrate or clerk) to determine whether that individual was the same person that was subject to the detainer. If the judicial officer determined that the prisoner was the individual subject to the detainer, then law enforcement officials would be required to hold them for up to forty-eight hours so ICE could take custody.
The bill was introduced after new Democratic sheriffs in Buncombe, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg, and Wake counties announced that they were terminating their counties’ 287(g) cooperative agreements with ICE, or were no longer going to comply with immigration detainers, or both. HB 370 was endorsed by the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, which represents all one hundred county sheriffs across the state.
Governor Cooper justified his veto in a prepared statement, saying that the “legislation is simply about scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina.” He even suggested that the bill was “unconstitutional” and that North Carolina would somehow be less safe if sheriffs were mandated to enforce federal immigration laws. Yet he failed to offer any evidence to support those claims.
His veto followed a recent case in which the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, whose jurisdiction includes Charlotte, ignored an ICE detainer for an illegal alien who was arrested on rape and child sex offense charges. The detainee was later apprehended by ICE almost two months after being released from the county jail.
Governor Cooper’s veto was sharply rebuked at every level of government. President Donald Trump tweeted that the veto was “a terrible decision for the people of North Carolina” and urged Governor Cooper to “reverse his decision and get back to the basics of fighting crime!”
State Representative Brendon Jones (R-Columbus) also responded by saying the governor’s veto was clearly intended to protect criminal aliens from deportation. “How could the Governor choose to abandon the people of North Carolina and their safety?” he asked. “This was commonsense legislation for the protection of our people. This Governor has decided to side with illegal immigrants charged with serious crimes over the citizens of North Carolina.”
Most of the state’s sheriffs, too, who routinely work with ICE and had endorsed the bill, reacted to the veto with dismay. Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page (R) said, “I’m very disappointed in the governor, considering he was the former attorney general for the state of North Carolina. It just seemed like he missed the point on public safety. I think the most important thing that we can do as sheriffs who run jails is note who is coming in and who is coming back out of our jails.” And Beaufort County Sheriff Ernie Coleman (R) added that “[n]inety-five percent of sheriffs are complying, with approximately 45 percent of Democratic sheriffs also complying, and it ain’t nothing special they’ve done, this has been going on forever[.]”
With a veto override all but impossible, it’s unclear where pro-enforcement groups will go from here.