Newly elected sheriff of Forsyth County, Bobby Kimbrough, faced tough questions about immigration and cooperation with ICE from community members at the inaugural community forum on Monday.

Members of the community hounded Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough with questions about immigration and the sheriff’s office’s cooperation with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials at a community forum on Monday evening.

More than a dozen immigration activists held up signs that read “Uncheck the Box” at the Forsyth County Central Library, where more than 120 members of the community gathered for an inaugural community forum hosted by the sheriff who recently celebrated his first 100 days in office.

“Currently, we are talking to the US Marshals about that box,” said Kimbrough about a contract between the sheriff’s office and US Marshals that checks off ICE as an authorized user of the local jail.

At a February press conference, Kimbrough announced that he would no longer authorize ICE to use the local jail to detain suspected undocumented immigrants under the contract which is up for renewal in April. The contract, which was initially signed under the previous administration in May 2016, authorizes ICE to detain “individuals who are awaiting a hearing on their immigration status or deportation.”

Kimbrough seemed to walk back his pledge in comments on Monday evening that contradicted his assurance in February that he would renegotiate the US Marshals Services contract to no longer lease jail beds to ICE.

“There’s contractual agreements that I have to respect because I can’t cost the county money based on what I feel or what I think,” Kimbrough said at Monday’s meeting. 

“We are negotiating with the US Marshal Services because what that is, is bed space with ICE,” Kimbrough said. “ICE is not only immigration. ICE handles human trafficking, guns, they handle a school of things. When the contract says ICE, it doesn’t mean immigration… So when we negotiate that contract, what we’ve got to do is… structure that contract specifically with the lawyers to make sure that we don’t address it to where we talkin’ about immigration or to house immigration violations.”

Christina Howell, the public affairs officer for the sheriff’s office, gave context on Kimbrough’s comments via phone call on Wednesday.

“It’s not him wavering on his commitment; it’s making sure we uphold our legal obligations with honoring the rights of individuals,” Howell said. “We understand that this is a subject that stirs a lot of emotions. It’s a complex issue, and we appreciate the public taking the time to educate themselves, to do their research, to ask the questions.”

She confirmed that they have not decided whether or not to continue authorizing ICE to use the jail when they renegotiate the contract. She said that under the current contract, ICE detainees are only allowed to stay in the jail for a maximum of 72 hours and that they do not have any undocumented immigrants being held at this time.

The federal government reimburses the county $70 per day for each prisoner, according to Kimbrough. The sheriff told reporters during his press conference in February that reimbursements for ICE prisoners since the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1, 2018 have totaled $38,000.

Laura Garduño Garcia with Siembra NC, an immigration advocacy group, said that Sheriff Kimbrough shouldn’t have to wait until April to modify the contract. A paragraph on page 12 of the contract states that “either party may initiate a request for modification to this agreement in writing” and that all modifications negotiated will be effective after written approval by both parties.

“It could be the old sheriff’s decision, but he’s the sheriff now so he’s responsible,” Garcia said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

“Other sheriffs have done the same thing,” Garcia added.

Kimbrough also said at the meeting that his office does not honor I-203 detainer requests from ICE to hold prisoners after they’ve posted bond or completed adjudication. I-203 requests are administrative documents signed by ICE officers and are not warrants.

However, Kimbrough stated that if his office were to receive an arrest warrant from a US judge or federal magistrate to hold someone in ICE custody, that his office would honor that warrant.

Another community member asked Kimbrough what he would do if a bill that requires local law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants became a law.

“If it becomes law, it’s law and I have to follow it,” Kimbrough said. “There’s only so much that I can do. And I will obey the law. I have no choice.”

House Bill 370 was filed on March 14 in response to several sheriff’s departments — including Wake, Durham, Orange and Mecklenburg counties — announcing that they will limit cooperation with federal immigration officials. The bill, which is backed by House Speaker Tim Moore, would require local law enforcement to honor detainer requests provided by ICE. The bill would also require that local law enforcement check the immigration status of “any person charged with a criminal offense or an impaired driving offense.” Currently, state law requires local law enforcement to check the status of anyone charged with a felony or driving while impaired, which Kimbrough confirmed that his office does. The bill would additionally make it unlawful for any office to “prohibit federal law enforcement officers from entering and conducting enforcement activities at a county jail, local confinement facility, district confinement facility, or satellite jail/work release unit.” Those who fail to comply would be fined at least $1,000 for the first offense and $25,000 for each subsequent offense.

Lonnie Albright, a Forsyth County assistant attorney who is the police attorney assigned to the sheriff’s office, said in an email to TCB that he believes the bill is unconstitutional and violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

Marbury v. Madison, an 1803 US Supreme Court case, essentially means that laws, rules, statutes repugnant to the United States Constitution are invalid,” Albright said in the email. “This oldie is still the law of the land and it established the principle of judicial review in this country… My crystal ball says this has about as much a chance of becoming law as does recreational marijuana.”

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Kimbrough opened Monday’s meeting by introducing members of his commanding staff, then listed some of the office’s accomplishments such as creating a new response team as part of the school safety initiative and a taskforce for fighting the opioid epidemic, a large part of the platform he ran on in 2018.

“We won’t run from any hot topic,” he said as he opened the forum for questions.

Many community members congratulated Kimbrough while others posed questions about ICE, police officers in schools and police brutality.

Several members asked questions about school safety and whether or not officers are armed at schools and what Kimbrough thinks about arming teachers.

“Of course they are,” Kimbrough said about whether or not the school officers are armed.

The sheriff also noted that the school officers recently underwent an outfit revamp so that they are clothed in khakis, Nikes and polo shirts.

“It’s a softer look,” he said. “They can perform the same things in that look.”

As for arming teachers, Kimbrough responded by saying that he didn’t think it was a good idea.

“Carrying a gun is more than the notion of putting a gun on your hip,” he said. “You can’t teach and worry about where your firearm is…. You can’t pull that bullet back once you discharge it… I don’t think teachers should be armed, that’s my opinion.”

As more members of the community thanked Kimbrough and his office for their work, he said he was grateful for the opportunity to be the county sheriff.

“We will always be transparent,” Kimbrough said. “I welcome your calls, your letters, your emails, your complaints. It’s the people’s office.”

At the end of the forum, many members stuck around to shake Kimbrough’s hand and personally congratulate him on his first 100 days.

Yusef Suggs El, a longtime Winston-Salem resident, said he was pleased with how the meeting turned out.

“I’m glad that we have a sheriff that’s standing upon the law,” he said. “I’m loving the culture that the sheriff is working on changing.”

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