Across North Carolina, a bill advances forcing sheriffs to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
A house judiciary panel approved legislation Wednesday requiring sheriffs in all counties to fulfill ICE detainer requests.
Those requests can be used to hold criminal suspects for up to 48 hours.
This bill came about when sheriffs in several of the state’s largest counties like Wake and Durham said they will not honor detainers or take part in any other programs with ICE.
9 On Your Side checked in with law enforcement in the East today to find out how they conduct business.
Craven County Chip Hughes told 9 On Your Side that it is his duty to keep his community safe.
“You don’t want to release a dangerous criminal back into the community that should be held,” Hughes said.
That is part of the reason why he said he always honors detainer requests from ICE.
“It is going to continue to be what we do, and we will honor those requests,” Hughes said.
He said when someone is detained, their immigration status is checked.
If they are illegal, the sheriff’s office notifies ICE.
If ICE sends a detainer request, the sheriff’s office holds that person for up to 48 hours.
“We don’t have an ICE agent here on site so that’s why they send the request and ask we hold them for an additional 48 hours, so they can get here to take custody of them,” Hughes said.
However, this is not mandatory for sheriff’s offices statewide, which is what House Bill 370 is trying to change.
The bill would allow anyone in the community to sue sheriffs if they do not comply with ICE detainer requests, facing fines up to $25,000 a day.
Hughes said the overwhelming majority of sheriffs in the state already comply with requests.
“I talked with sheriffs in Pamlico and Carteret Counties, and we all work very closely with ICE,” Hughes said. “We support them, and they support us.”
Pitt County Sheriff Paula Dance said her office also complies with requests.
“Our citizens pay taxes for public safety to make sure we have a safe place to work, sleep and play,” Dance said. “We are doing everything we can to satisfy that and make our county as safe as possible. Now let me be clear, there could be special circumstances that would alter the 48-hour detainment. For instance, if we detained someone for a very heinous crime, then certainly we would be pushing to keep that person instead of letting that person get out on bond. We would make sure there were extra things done not to put that person back out on the street.”
“Legislators and their constituents just want the sheriffs to do what they are supposed to do,” Hughes said. “We are going to do what we have to do in Craven.”
Hughes said ICE does not always send a request, and in that case, if the person makes bond, they are released into the community just like anybody else.
“I think a lot of people are under the impression that if we are working with ICE, then we will go out there and dedicate a bunch of resources to just going through the county and find everybody that is not in our country legally,” he said. “We just don’t have the resources to do that.”
Immigrant advocates oppose the bill, and they protested outside Governor Roy Cooper’s office this week.
Advocates are urging him to veto any final bill.
Cooper has yet to comment publicly.