CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - House members in Raleigh are scheduled to debate and vote this week on an immigration bill - House Bill 370 - that would force sheriffs to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the 287g program and immigration detainers.
But the association that represents sheriffs still hasn’t taken a position on the bill.
“We have been and are continuing to evaluate it,” said Eddie Caldwell of the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association. “The president of the association has appointed a group of sheriffs representing all different perspectives on the issue to meet and work together to see if they can come up with a solution that would be satisfactory to the sheriffs and satisfactory to the advocates of House Bill 370 and all others that might be interested.”
Caldwell, the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association, says the association asked legislators for time to study the issue.
“There are 100 sheriffs in N.C. and this is an issue that has not been discussed or introduced or proposed before and so until the leadership of the association can evaluate the issue and receive input from the sheriffs or I should say all of that is necessary in order to arrive at a position,” said Caldwell.
“The law is clear in North Carolina currently that a sheriff is not violating their oath of office - a sheriff is acting lawfully if they chose to participate in the 287g program or not participate in the 287g program. The law is equally clear that a sheriff is not violating their oath of office and is within legal guidelines if the sheriff chooses to honor a detainer or if the sheriff chooses to not honor a detainer. And certainly as drafted, House Bill 370 would constrict that authority that’s currently in the law.”
According to Caldwell, three points in HB 370 are of interest to the Sheriffs’ Association.
“One interest is the first section of the bill which takes away the sheriffs’ discretion on which way they want to follow the existing law. There’s a concern with the - on the second page of the bill - with a section that addresses federal law enforcement officers coming into county jails and it’s pretty open ended the way it’s drafted there,” said Caldwell. “Another section of the bill sets up civil liability with penalties up to $25,000 and that’s a concern as well.”
Caldwell said that Monday afternoon he asked members of the House Rules Committee to give the Sheriffs’ Association time to go through the process and come up with a solution but “a motion for favorable report was made and approved so that sent the bill out of that committee to the full house.”
Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden was among the crowd at the House Rules Committee meeting when the bill was discussed.
“You’ve never spoken to me. You never even called me. You listened to one thing. You listened to ICE I’m a 38-year veteran of this state. I was 22-year homicide investigator in Charlotte NC,” Sheriff McFadden said. “So I take offense that you say I may be letting someone out of jail who is dangerous. My family lives there. I live there and I would never do that.”
McFadden added, “I do not release any body unless a judge tells me to release them. If you want to talk to ICE - look on that paper and show me where a federal judge signed any paper to have anybody detained. If you want my people to hold these people in jail bring me a warrant not a detainer.”
Sheriff McFadden discontinued 287g in Mecklenburg County. Since then, ICE agents said they plan to be out in the community rounding up people believed to be undocumented.
McFadden told committee members that the bill’s sponsors are using scare tactics.
“We came here because you said we’re sanctuary sheriffs. We are sheriffs,” Sheriff McFadden said. “And we’re here to do work. We’re here to do work for the citizens. You’ve been misled. If you knew about law – you know about bail and a bond.”
In a telephone interview with WBTV, Representative Destin Hall – one of the bill’s sponsors – said he called sheriffs who are not working with ICE’s 287g program or detainers sanctuary sheriffs “because they have enacted policy that essentially make their counties as far as law enforcement goes sanctuary counties. And when you make a decision to allow folks who have been charged with serious crimes – felonies - to be released on the streets when that sheriff has the opportunity to keep that person in custody by honoring an ice detainer, that individual is a sanctuary sheriff. That is the policy decision that they have made.”
Hall, a Republican from District 87, says the bill’s sponsors are open to listening to any ideas the Sheriffs’ Association may have.
“As far as delaying the bill at this stage though to give time for that we don’t think that makes sense because this is something we’ve been working on now for months - worked with federal immigration authorities, lawyers in the Legislative Analysis Division at the NC General Assembly. We’ve looked at what other states have done,” said Rep. Hall.
“We think that we’ve put in the work here for a good policy proposal for NC and delaying that further really doesn’t make sense. And, the other thing I’ll tell you - we did send the bill to the NC Sheriffs’ Association about a week or so before we even filed it so they have had it for some time. In addition to that, we have spoken individually to sheriffs across NC to get input from some of them. And we just don’t think it makes sense at this point to delay.”
If the House votes in favor of HB 370, the bill then moves over to the Senate to begin Senate committee debates.