Forsyth County sheriff says he will limit cooperation with ICE

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Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough answers questions at a press conference with Assistant County Attorney Lonnie Albright. (photo by Jordan Green)

Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. said when he renegotiates a contract with the US Marshals Service in April, ICE will no longer be authorized to use the jail.

The jail will continue to set aside beds for federal prisoners awaiting trial in federal court.

Kimbrough noted that the contract with the US Marshals Service includes a section entitled “Other Authorized Users” with check-off boxes for different federal agencies, including US Immigration Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

“For example, Block 18, if my mind serves me correctly, they check off ‘ICE,’” Kimbrough said.

A reporter tried to pin him down. “So, for clarification,” she said, “you are not ending that contract in April 2019.”

“I’m ending that part of it,” Kimbrough responded. “But the US Marshals contract will continue.”

But in another response during a 30-minute press conference today, the sheriff seemed to leave the door open to contracting out bed space for undocumented offenders who are awaiting deportation or transfer to an immigrant detention facility.

“So what I’m saying to you is that if someone is arrested by a federal agency and a federal warrant, a federal US magistrate is attached to that, that’s a different story,” said Kimbrough, a Democrat who was elected in November. “Because now that’s, ‘Thus says the federal government.’ That’s, ‘Thus says the law.’”

The sheriff’s responses to questions about the extent of the cooperation between the sheriff’s office and federal immigration enforcement often conflated two different issues — allowing ICE to use the jail to house federal prisoners and honoring I-203 requests, or detainers filed by ICE to hold inmates who are undocumented.

“We’re no longer going to be part of the I-203,” Kimbrough said. “That’s where I’m going to hang my hat at. Because as you’ve seen across the state, across the country, there’s a precedent being set for the sheriff’s office based on that.”

But the decision to not honor detainers from ICE is not a change of policy from Kimbrough’s predecessor, Republican Bill Schatzman.

Assistant County Attorney Lonnie Albright acknowledged that at some point Schatzman stopped honoring ICE detainers, but he could not say exactly when. But in an August 2017 Triad City Beat story, Albright suggested the sheriff’s office wasn’t supportive of the mechanism.

“I hate those ICE detainers,” he said at the time. “Agencies are getting sued all the time. If that person is here a couple hours and bonds out, we have no legal basis to hold them.”  

Former Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, another Republican who was ousted in November, also did not honor ICE detainers, on the basis that holding inmates beyond the adjudication of their state criminal charges would constitute of violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

Kimbrough’s decision to limit cooperation with ICE was made after a press conference yesterday by the immigrant rights group Siembra NC protesting the detention of a Honduran immigrant named Eduardo Fuentes at the Forsyth County jail.

Despite the previous sheriff’s practice of not honoring ICE detainers, Kimbrough said his commitment to honor the request from the federal immigration agency still holds. Kimbrough told reporters on Wednesday that Fuentes was charged with unlawful possession of a stolen weapon, a felony.

“The gentleman came in; he posted bond — he made bond,” Kimbrough said. “But because that I-203 was in place, he was held. If the I-203 was not in place he would have been able to walk right out the door.”

While Kimbrough confirmed that Fuentes is being held in the jail, his name does not appear on the inmate list posted on the agency’s website. And the public terminal at the Forsyth County Clerk of Court’s office turned up no offenses for possession of a stolen weapon by anyone by the name of Eduardo Fuentes. City Beat has a request pending with the sheriff’s office for Fuentes’ booking document at the jail.

Outside the room where the press conference was held at the sheriff’s office, eight Forsyth County residents expressed appreciation for Sheriff Kimbrough’s promise to limit cooperation with ICE.

“I voted for him,” Yamile McBride said. “I love it. I’m excited for the whole county because it affects us all.”

She added that because of Kimbrough’s actions, the immigrant community “will be judged fairly — or more fair.”

Kimbrough hammered at a distinction between criminals and people who may not have permission to be in the country but are otherwise abiding by the law.

“Housing a detainee versus someone that’s criminal is two different animals; it’s two different conversations,” he said. “Housing someone that is here illegally, that goes to work everyday, that makes a contribution to society, that is striving to be a part of the fabric of this country and this county versus someone who has criminal activity — that’s two different conversations.”

Under the contract between the US Marshals Service and the sheriff’s office, the federal government reimburses the county $70 per day for each prisoner. Kimbrough said reimbursements for ICE prisoners since the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1, 2018 have totaled $38,000.

District Attorney Jim O’Neill, who is a Republican, attended the press conference at Kimbrough’s request.

While O’Neill said he and the new sheriff are “as close as two people could be,” he delivered a much sterner message.

“What people have to understand is that if you’re here and you’re illegal and you’re committing a crime, you can’t stay,” O’Neill said. “You’re going to be arrested, you’re going to be charged, and the deportation process once you finish your sentence will begin. And I hope that is one of the messages that gets out to the public. Because of course I’ve got a lot of concerned citizens wondering whether we were going to allow people committing crimes that are here illegally, if they’re going to be allowed to stay following prosecution. And the answer is no.”

UPDATE, Feb. 10, 5:42 p.m.: Winston-Salem police Lt. John Morris tells City Beat that Fuentes, who is identified as Francis Eduardo Rodriguez Fuentes in court records, was arrested for possession of stolen firearms during a traffic stop. Morris said Fuentes was also cited for possession of marijuana, no operators license, possession of a fictitious license tag, an open container and paraphernalia.