Speaker’s bill would force NC sheriffs to work with ICE

March 15, 2019 GMT

House leadership, including Speaker Tim Moore, filed legislation Thursday to force local sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement and to hold prisoners on federal immigration detainers.

The issue came to a head recently in a number of metro counties, including Wake and Durham counties, where newly elected sheriffs have stepped away from cooperative agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The agency said in February that it stepped up immigration raids in the state because of the lessened cooperation, with a spokesman saying ICE’s increased presence in the state would be the “new normal.”

Several members of the Republican House leadership team signed on to House Bill 370, including Moore, R-Cleveland, all but ensuring it will clear the House.

A spokesman for Senate leadership said they had not yet reviewed the bill or discussed it with membership and couldn’t comment. Gov. Roy Cooper’s press office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The bill orders sheriffs to “comply with, honor, and fulfill any request made” in an immigration detainer. There’s an exception for victims of and witnesses to crimes and for anyone who can prove they’re a U.S. citizen or that they have lawful immigration status in the United States.

The bill would also prohibit local law enforcement from barring federal immigration officers from local jails or other detention facilities.

Anyone who thinks law enforcement is violating the these rules could file an action in Superior Court, and the court could fine local law enforcement between $1,000 and $1,500 for every day they don’t comply. A second offense would boost that to $25,000 a day.

The person who files the complaint could also get attorney’s fees and other court costs, the bill states.

Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker and Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead are among the North Carolina sheriffs who recently rejected ICE cooperative agreements. A spokesman for Baker said in an email that the sheriff’s office was aware of the measure and “will continue to monitor the bill as it continues to make its way through committee.”

Birkhead said in a statement that he’ll continue to stand by the plan he laid out shortly after being sworn in: Absent a court order or arrest warren signed by a judicial official, any person with their criminal charges dropped or who has made bond won’t be held beyond the normal timetable for release.

“This policy adheres to the laws of North Carolina as currently written and allows any federal agency to obtain appropriate court orders or warrants to take someone into custody,” the sheriff said via email. “Should any agency produce a legal order the Sheriff’s Office will comply.”

The sheriff also said he and his staff will monitor the bill.