Sheriffs around the state are signing a letter opposing bills that would require them to cooperate with ICE. And while one Triad sheriff has signed on, the other has not.

HB 10, otherwise known as “Require Sheriffs to Cooperate with ICE” and SB 50, called “Require Cooperation with ICE 2.0,” were both filed by state lawmakers in January. Written and sponsored by Republicans — including local state Rep. John Faircloth (R-Guilford), House Whip Jon Hardister (R-Guilford) and Rep. Kyle Hall (R-Forsyth) and Sen. Joyce Krawiec (R-Forsyth) — the bills would require sheriffs and jails to comply with all immigration detainer requests made by the US Dept. of Homeland Security. The bills also prohibit jails from releasing individuals on bail even if they are eligible for release under North Carolina law based on a “request, approval, or other instruction” from the federal government.

On March 28, HB 10 passed its second reading in the House, with all Republican representatives and three Democrats, including Guilford County Rep. Cecil Brockman, voting in favor of the bill. SB 50 remains stalled in committee as of Feb. 1.

These types of bills are not new. For the past few years, Republican lawmakers have attempted to pass similar bills that require sheriffs to enforce federal immigration laws. However, none have been signed into law; Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed two in the last four years. However, with a new Republican supermajority in the state Senate, members of the GOP hope to override future vetoes by the governor.

Which sheriffs are opposed to the bills?

In response, a group of NC sheriffs signed onto a letter on March 1 stating their opposition to the bills.

“As Sheriffs of North Carolina, elected by our constituents to provide for the public safety of our counties, we write to ask that you oppose HB 10 and SB 50,” the letter begins. “For the third time in four years, these bills have been filed in the NC General Assembly to require that elected sheriffs enforce federal immigration laws. The role of the sheriff has historically focused on enforcing local laws in our jurisdictions, maintaining and operating jails, properly serving civil process papers, and providing security for North Carolina’s courtrooms. However, these bills set a precedent requiring that we prioritize voluntary immigration enforcement at the expense of local law enforcement priorities.”

Thus far, 11 NC sheriffs have signed onto the letter, including Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers. Rogers, a Democrat, won re-election in November 2022. He has been in office since first winning the seat in 2018, beating longtime incumbent BJ Barnes. Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough, also a Democrat, has not yet signed on to the letter.

When asked if Kimbrough had any plans to do so, Christina Howell, the public information officer for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, told TCB that she was “not aware of any plans to join this effort at this time.” When pressed for an explanation as to why, TCB did not receive a response.

Bria Evans, the public information officer for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department told TCB in an email that Sheriff Rogers couldn’t comment on why he signed the letter “due to the status of the bill being proposed legislation as opposed to law.”

In the past, both Rogers and Kimbrough have been pressed by immigrant activists to oppose cooperation with ICE. 

In 2019, community members pressed Rogers to oppose HB 370, a similar bill that originally included penalties for sheriffs who didn’t cooperate with ICE. However, Rogers noted that he was in support of the bill after an amendment was proposed by the NC Sheriff’s Association. The bill was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Cooper. 

Similarly, Sheriff Kimbrough, who also won re-election last year and has been in office since 2018, has been pushed by activists to not cooperate with ICE. After taking over the department in 2019, Kimbrough initially said he would let a contract between his office and the US Marshals Service expire, which would stop the lease of county jail beds to ICE. However, later on, Kimbrough walked back his statements, stating that if he is bound by legal contracts, he has to comply.

In addition to Sheriff Rogers, sheriffs in Wake, Mecklenburg, Buncombe, Wilson, Orange Durham, Vance, Pitt, Cumberland and Granville Counties have signed the letter.

A history of ICE cooperation and its effects

This time around, the sheriffs who have signed on to the letter say that the new bills “add substantial administrative burdens” to their staff, make the counties “less safe,” and “raise significant Fourth Amendment concerns by requiring sheriffs and jails to comply with all immigration detainer requests made by the US Department of Homeland Security.”

According to reporting by the Charlotte Observer, “[E]xisting state law requires sheriffs to notify immigration authorities if they can’t determine the citizenship status of someone in custody charged with a felony or impaired driving offense. The law doesn’t require sheriffs to detain an undocumented person if they are otherwise eligible for release.”

However, if HB 10 and SB 50 are passed, they would require sheriffs to “detain an undocumented person if ICE has issued an administrative or detainer warrant for them, and it expands the list of charges that would trigger ICE notification.”

The expanded list of charges includes felony drug crimes, homicide, rape and other sex offenses, kidnapping, human trafficking, gang-related crimes, assaults and violations of a valid protective order.

These new bills build off of a voluntary national program known as 287g, wherein local law enforcement agencies can choose to disclose the immigration status of detained people to federal immigration authorities. Currently 15 counties in North Carolina have signed on to participate in the 287g program. Guilford and Forsyth County have not signed up.

The letter by the sheriffs notes that studies have shown that “mandatory immigration enforcement makes people less likely to trust government authorities without improving public safety.”

According to a 2021 fact sheet by the American Immigration Council, there have been negative effects caused by the 287g program including widespread racial profiling and an increase in arrests of individuals with minor criminal histories.

“The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) conducted a comprehensive analysis of the 287(g) program in 2011, at a time when the task force model was in more common use, and found that it did not target individuals with serious criminal convictions,” the fact sheet states. “Half of all detainers issued through the program were for people who had committed misdemeanors and traffic offenses.”

The fact sheet notes that the agreements also threaten community safety. In 2019, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, a group made up of police chiefs from 78 large police departments in the US and Canada, found that “without assurances that contact with the police would not result in purely civil immigration enforcement action, the hard-won trust, communication and cooperation from the immigrant community would disappear.”

Concerns about constitutional rights being violated is also included in the letter signed by sheriffs.

“Despite including a provision limiting state and civil liability, these bills do not address the potential liability sheriffs will face due to constitutional violations,” the letter reads. “As Sheriffs, we take seriously our duties and our responsibilities to the people of North Carolina and we must be permitted to set local law enforcement priorities. We respectfully ask that you let us do just that.”

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