The N.C. House’s revival of a bill that would force sheriffs in the state to cooperate with ICE began Wednesday with a heated reminder of its controversial nature.
Republican-sponsored House Bill 10, with Rep. Destin Hall, R-Caldwell, as primary sponsor, is titled “Require Sheriffs to Cooperate with ICE.”
ICE stands for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The legislation requires all sheriffs to hold suspects in certain crimes for at least 48 hours when their immigration status is unknown or they are in the country illegally.
HB10 could be among the first — if not the first — tests of whether House Democrats are able and willing to uphold a Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a divisive Republican bill.
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Following an expected veto — as Cooper did with similar legislation in 2019 and 2022 — it would take just one of the 49 House Democrats to vote for a veto override to allow HB10 to become law.
The bill was recommended Wednesday by the Judiciary 2 committee to the Rules and Operations committee, which is scheduled to address it at 4 p.m. Feb. 28.
Bill sponsors said HB10 and companion Senate Bill 50 contain language that they believe address Cooper’s concerns about the previous bills.
“Instead of requiring a query of ICE on any infraction of anyone who is brought into a jail, it only requires an inquiry when someone is accused of the most heinous crimes,” they said.
“They would be held long enough for ICE to come in and do their job in a more controlled environment rather than in local communities in a much more dangerous environment,” Hall said.
The second major difference reflects concerns expressed by Cooper about potential criminal penalties for sheriffs who decline to cooperate with ICE in detaining inmates.
Although more than 90 sheriffs in North Carolina comply with ICE requests, several Democratic sheriffs, including Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough of Forsyth County, have limited their cooperation.
Those sheriffs also have stated their opposition to the previous ICE legislation.
The Forsyth Sheriff’s Office issued a statement after Senate Bill 101 cleared the legislature on July 1, 2022, that included a quote from Kimbrough.
“We will continue to do what is moral, what is legal and what is right,” Kimbrough said. “We have been and will continue to be a law-abiding law enforcement agency.”
Other sheriffs have made similar statements.
Hall told the Judiciary 2 committee that the non-cooperating sheriffs “are putting partisan politics ahead of public safety.”
“This bill would end that controversy because I believe they will follow the law if this (bill) is passed.
“But if they won’t, there are a number of remedies already in law, including potential removal from office, and a judge can require a sheriff to follow the law.”
Opponents say voters in those counties elected Democratic sheriffs knowing their stance on ICE cooperation, and the bill is an attempt to usurp their authority.
Critics of the ICE legislation say the measure could increase jail time for suspects who have otherwise met the conditions for release.
They also point out it would force sheriff’s offices to investigate the immigration status of anyone booked into the jail.
Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, told the committee she is concerned that HB10 would expand the categories of individuals subject to the 48-hour hold, including for non-serious crime, to make time to check their immigration and potential criminal status.
Hall said HB10 would not allow that.
“Sheriffs are not ICE agents, and we have seen too many examples of people with a minor traffic violation who are held for up to 48 hours,” Morey said.
“The bill is too much of an overreach, too much of a violation of due process, and those charged with a serious crime already will be held without bond or a high bond.
“Being held for 48 hours for non-serious crimes can change someone’s life for good,’ Morey said, citing potential loss of job as an example.
Republican-sponsored Senate Bill 50 contains the same language as HB10. That bill is expected to pass the Senate given the 30-20 GOP super-majority.
Meanwhile, HB10 will serve as the litmus test for the legislation.
Among sponsors are GOP Reps. Kyle Hall of Forsyth and Stokes counties and John Faircloth and Jon Hardister of Guilford County.
When Republicans had super-majorities in both chambers during the 2017-18 sessions, Cooper had 23 of 28 vetoes overridden.
By comparison, during the 2019-22 sessions, Cooper vetoed 47 bills with none overridden.
After being dormant since March 2021, SB101 was fast-tracked in the final week of the regular 2022 session. Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, was among the cosponsors.
The controversial bill cleared the House by a 65-49 vote on June 30 and the Senate by a 25-19 vote on July 1 — both along partisan lines.
Cooper vetoed the bill on July 11. There was no veto override attempt the rest of the 2022 session.
“This law is only about scoring political points and using fear to divide North Carolinians,” Cooper said in his 2022 veto statement.
“As the state’s former top law enforcement officer, I know that current law already allows the state to incarcerate and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status.
“This bill is unconstitutional and weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating that sheriffs do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their ability to protect their counties.”
HB10 is one of several bills where similar versions passed the General Assembly last session, but couldn’t survive a gubernatorial veto, said John Dinan, a political science professor at Wake Forest University who is a national expert on state legislatures.
“We don’t yet have a sense of whether Governor Cooper will be able to keep the support of all House Democratic legislators on these and other bills in cases some Democratic legislators may feel cross-pressured to support the bill, but also to support the governor’s veto.
“These bills open the possibility that one or several house Democratic legislators could support the bill, not only on its initial passage, but on an override vote,” Dinan said.