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Gov. Cooper vetoes a bill that would require sheriffs to honor ICE detainer requests

Born alive bill veto
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper during a debate at WRAL studios in Raleigh, N.C., on Oct. 18, 2016. Cooper vetoed an abortion bill Thursday that would create new criminal and civil penalties for infanticide. (Chris Seward/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would have required local sheriffs to honor detainer requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Wednesday, virtually eliminating its chance of becoming law.

The General Assembly ratified House Bill 370 the day before, following months of revision and heated debate.

The act would have eliminated North Carolina sheriffs’ choice to honor or deny requests made by ICE that could result in the detainment of persons charged with a crime and held in a state jail.

The bill most notably enumerates two new rules that local police would be forced to follow:

1. Upon request, jail administrators would have to allow ICE to interview any person in custody within 24 hours.
2. If a person charged – not convicted – with a criminal offense is being held in state jail and ICE has issued a detainer request for them, a state judicial official would order them to continue to be held if the prisoner's identity matches that of the request. The prisoner would be released if the request is rescinded or if 48 hours passes, but they would still be held for other crimes if applicable. Otherwise, ICE would take custody of the prisoner.

Cooper’s veto included a brief paragraph attributing the bill to being “simply about scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina.” He also noted that a sheriff’s violation of this policy would be the only specifically named violation that could result in the removal of the sheriff from office.

“This bill, in addition to being unconstitutional, weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating sheriffs to do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their ability to protect their counties,” Cooper said in the statement.

Alissa Ellis, the regional immigrants' rights strategist for the N.C. ACLU, praised Cooper “for standing up for all communities and vetoing this extreme and dangerous anti-immigrant bill.” However, in a public release, Lt. Governor Dan Forest called the veto shameful.

“Gov. Cooper has once again shown he is more concerned about protecting violent criminals who are in our state illegally than the safety and security of our citizens," Forest wrote on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

After the bill was sent to Cooper’s desk, Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood released a statement which began by emphasizing that the state constitution created the General Assembly as the law-maker and the sheriff’s office as the law-enforcer, and that he will continue to enforce laws as written.

Blackwood clarified that it would be incorrect to say the Orange County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t currently work with ICE, saying the office is "required to inquire about the immigration status of anyone arrested for a Felony or DWI, and (they) comply with this requirement." However, he also expressed his discontent with the proposed bill. 

“Forcing a sheriff to honor a detainer request erodes the Office of the Sheriff, opening the door for the General Assembly to weaken further the authority and discretion vested in that Office," he said in the release. “... Keeping a person without legal authority is a violation of a person’s constitutional rights. It is not a matter of cooperation."

The bill has been debated in North Carolina along with a national discussion on immigration and the southern border.

“The most direct tie-in was to a lot of the campaign rhetoric from the 2018 campaign,” said Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank.

 Kokai added that this bill could also have implications in the 2020 elections.

“On the occasions when Gov. Cooper has vetoed a bill, he and his team have signaled to Democrats that there will be a political price to pay if you cross the aisle and vote with Republicans on an override, and I suspect the same would be true on this bill, as well,” said Kokai.

So he thinks a veto override is unlikely.

“Even those Democrats who were inclined to vote along with the Republicans to pass it will be very hard-pressed to go against most of their colleagues and against Gov. Cooper for a veto override,” Kokai said.

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