RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Trump administration’s leaders on immigration enforcement said Monday that several North Carolina sheriffs care more about politics than public safety by refusing to cooperate with federal agents looking for immigrants believed to be in the U.S. unlawfully.
Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Matt Albence visited Raleigh for a meeting with state and local officials and lawmakers on the dangers of refusing ICE detainers. The detainers are a tool that immigration officials typically use to request that a suspect be held up to 48 hours for pickup by federal authorities.
On Monday’s visit, the officials also heard from individuals who said they had family members killed by people who were not supposed to be in the country.
“It is the responsibility of our local, state and federal leaders to take action to protect our community,” Wolf said during a round-table discussion. “Unfortunately, what we’ve seen is the opposite from certain elected officials and jurisdictions around the country, and right here in North Carolina.”
Republican lawmakers approved state legislation in the summer that would have required sheriffs to recognize immigration detainers, but the measure was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Several Democrats sheriffs do not comply with detainer requests.
Cooper said the bill was likely to be unconstitutional, adding that he was concerned about a provision directing that a sheriff be removed from office for failing to meet new immigration duties such as responding to detainers. And immigration advocates have said arresting people on detainers violates their due process rights and would lead to litigation.
Republicans lack the votes to complete the override of the legislation, which passed along party lines. Democrats have called the legislation politically motivated and have suggested that the race of the sheriffs played a role in the bill.
GOP legislators who ran the bill this year told family members of the victims that they’ll keep fighting to enact the measure.
“For our governor to turn his back on our sheriffs and say that your safety is not as important as a criminal is a travesty to this state,” said state Rep. Brenden Jones of Columbus County.
No Democratic legislators participated in Monday’s event at a General Assembly office building.
One North Carolina resident, Chris Storie, told Wolf and other round-table participants that a suspect in a 2011 crash on the Outer Banks that killed Storie’s brother and injured her was unlawfully in the country. The suspect was ultimately released from jail on bond and remains a fugitive, she said.
Storie said the accident has devastated her family, adding they no longer gather for Thanksgiving and Christmas amid their pain.
“I don’t want to see any more families going through this,” Storie said. “We have had no justice in our case.”
The leader of a group advocating for the state’s Latino community said the personal pain of the victims of crime should be separated from the political efforts of legislators and the Trump administration to create an unwelcoming environment for immigrants.
“This is part of a campaign that they have been leading to basically demonize immigrant community members and to undermine the will of voters in North Carolina to support sheriffs” who won’t accept detainers, said Angeline Echeverría, executive director of El Pueblo, speaking in an interview.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest — who wants to unseat Cooper in the next governor’s race — and U.S. Reps. Mark Walker and Dan Bishop also took part in Monday’s discussion.
North Carolina legislators and members of Congress — in particularly U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis — have emphasized the detainer issue this year. Data from ICE show local authorities had refused to honor over 560 detainers in the state for the 12 months ending Sept. 30. Wolf mentioned a case involving a detainer case in Durham County involving a man now charged with murder.
ICE has even created a web site highlighting “non-cooperative jurisdictions” and mug shots of criminal defendants who “may be released into your community” because certain sheriffs routinely fail to honor detainers.
Wolf said that if people sought on ICE detainers can’t be held in safe environments such as jails, then ICE agents must go arrest the defendants in communities. Several county sheriffs who comply with detainers say their commitment is based on protecting public safety.
“We go after the people that broke the law and (are) constantly breaking the law,” Davidson County Sheriff Richie Simmons said. “These are bad people that we stop and we hold them and I’m not going to put them back on the streets.”