"We have federal immigration law in this country, and ICE is tasked with executing that law. And they are going to continue to do that - no matter what individual sheriffs do," said Rep. Destin Hall, one of four primary co-sponsors of House Bill 10.
The bill would mandate sheriffs and local jails reach out to federal immigration officials if they are unable to determine the legal status of individuals charged with certain crimes.
"This is talking about folks who are here illegally and also who have been charged with a serious crime in our state. And what do we mean with a serious crime? Murder, rape, kidnapping, human trafficking, gang crimes, drug crimes," Hall explained, a list which also includes violations of protective orders.
Sheriffs would have to take individuals in front of a state judge, who would order whether they are held for 48 hours or ICE takes custody or rescinds the request.
"When a sheriff refuses to cooperate with them, it allows folks to walk out of their jails, ICE still has to do their job. But now they have to go out into the community, or in the field, and try to enforce this law in a much more dangerous environment than they would otherwise be in," Hall said.
Though similar proposals have failed to gain steam in the past, opponents of the bill are watching closely and worry that people not involved in those "serious crimes" could also be caught up as a result.
"The immigration detainer portion applies to all crimes including lower-level crimes," said Maria Gonzalez, Deputy Director of the left-leaning advocacy organization El Pueblo.
Gonzalez said that unlike prior sessions, in which Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has vetoed similar legislation, they cannot rely as comfortably on that step, as Republicans hold a supermajority in the Senate and are just one seat short in the House.
"We have been talking to (the Democratic Caucus), and I know we're still hearing back to make sure what that strategy will look like. But right now, I think that we have pretty good hopes keeping them all in," said Gonzalez, who said at this point, she was not aware of any Democratic support for the legislation.
Gonzalez noted she was not surprised to see the legislation introduced again, despite falling short in previous sessions.
"It's based on the 287g program, which was in the state for several years, led to the racial profiling of thousands of people, led to the abuse of this program. The use of this program was abused especially in counties like Wake, Mecklenburg, Alamance," said Gonzalez.
The 287g program allowed sheriff's offices to turn over undocumented immigrants charged with crimes to federal authorities, as well as allowed local officers to serve arrest warrants for immigration violations. It became a key issue in the 2018 Wake County Sheriff's Office race, with challenger Gerald Baker vowing to end the county's agreement. After winning, he followed through on the promise; it's estimated 1,500 people in Wake County had been deported between 2007 and 2018.
In a statement to ABC11, Wake County Sheriff Willie Rowe, a Democrat, said of the proposal:
As Sheriff of Wake County, I want to make it clear that I oppose House Bill 10 (HB10). This bill hinders the Sheriff's Office's ability to build relationships with the community and takes away power from the Sheriff to set local law enforcement priorities. The bill will 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.
I want to make our communities safer, but HB10 will make us less safe by fomenting distrust in local law enforcement. No one should fear interacting with the Wake County Sheriff's Office because of their federal immigration status.
North Carolina General Statue 162-62 mandates that all Sheriffs make a query and notify ICE, in certain circumstances, if we are unable to determine whether a person is a US citizen or legal resident. As an elected official, I must be able to determine local priorities.
Along with my opposition, I am calling for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.