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North Carolina Republicans spent months pushing a controversial bill that would force sheriffs to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement — but the state’s Democratic governor vetoed it Wednesday night.
The bill, which passed the state Senate in June and the state House Tuesday, would have required local sheriffs to cooperate with ICE or risk being removed from office. The bill was comprehensive: It required local law enforcement to check the immigration status of every single person they charged with a crime, interview detainees about their immigration status at ICE’s request, and hold people suspected of being undocumented until ICE could pick them up.
The bill — which was introduced by Republicans, who dominate both chambers of the Legislature — passed largely along party lines. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper accused the sponsors of “scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina” in a statement issued Wednesday night.
“This bill, in addition to being unconstitutional, weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating sheriffs to do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their ability to protect their counties,” Cooper said.
Critics claimed deputizing local law enforcement on ICE’s behalf would make communities less safe by eroding people’s trust in law enforcement. Immigrants in particular, they said, would be afraid to call the police or report crimes if sheriff's deputies and other law enforcement officers suddenly had the authority to ask people about their immigration status.
More than 100 organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the YWCA, signed a letter urging Cooper to veto the bill.
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden, who’s serving his first term, was also among those against the bill. He’s part of a cohort of newly elected black sheriffs who specifically ran on building community trust by ending their counties’ legal partnerships with ICE, known as 287(g) agreements.
McFadden ended Mecklenburg’s 287(g) partnership, which had been in place since 2006, last December. Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker also ended his county’s partnership, in March. Three other counties in the state have stopped holding people specifically so ICE could pick them up for suspected immigration violations since 2018.
The bill, HB 370, was conservative lawmakers’ response to McFadden and others’ crusade against these partnerships with ICE. Rep. Destin Hall, one of the bill’s top sponsors, once told supporters that he worked with ICE to craft the bill.
“These sanctuary sheriffs are simply putting partisan politics ahead of public safety,” Hall said of McFadden, Baker, and other sheriffs on the House floor in April.
Cover image: FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2018, file photo, an immigrant who entered the United States illegally is checked before boarding a deportation flight. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)