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Controversial immigration bill resurfaces at NC legislature

Gustavo Rodea, a business owner from Wilmington, speaks during a Senate committee hearing on legislation requiring sheriffs to cooperate with ICE.
Colin Campbell
Gustavo Rodea, a business owner from Wilmington, speaks during a Senate committee hearing on legislation requiring sheriffs to cooperate with ICE.

A state Senate committee has approved legislation to force sheriffs to cooperate with federal immigration agents.

The bill — the first major legislation to move in this year's session — would affect mostly urban sheriffs who decline requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency tries to keep some suspects in jail for 48 hours until their immigration status can be checked.

House Rules Chairman Destin Hall, R-Caldwell and sponsor of the bill, argued the measure will make law enforcement officers safer because potentially dangerous suspects can be served with an immigration warrant while in jail. He mentioned Monday’s deadly shooting of law-enforcement officers in Charlotte while seeking to arrest a suspect, though he noted the incident did not involve immigrants.

“Any law enforcement officer you talk to will tell you, probably the most dangerous thing that they ever have to do is serve any kind of process or warrant, whatever it may be,” Hall said. “We've had folks who were arrested and an ICE detainer was issued, they were let out of jail, ICE was not contacted, they were allowed to just leave. And then within a short period of time, they've committed another crime.”

Hall said only about 10 of the state’s 100 sheriffs aren’t cooperating with ICE, but they include the Democrats who lead sheriff's offices in large urban counties like Wake and Mecklenburg.

Democrats and advocacy groups who spoke at Tuesday’s committee hearing say the bill creates constitutional due process concerns. Others said the measure would increase immigrants’ fears of interacting with law enforcement.

“Business will be negatively impacted and we could potentially lose workers due to the fear of HB 10,” said Gustavo Rodea, a small-business owner from Wilmington who spoke at the committee hearing. “This has happened in other states … immigrants left because they were scared of being arrested by simply driving and interacting with police officers.”

The advocacy group El Pueblo called the bill "an anti-immigrant bill" that's based on "the false premise that immigrants are a threat to public safety when in reality they are critical to the state's economy."

Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed earlier versions of the bill — most recently in 2022. But it didn’t become law then because Republicans didn’t have a veto-proof majority at the time. Now they do, making it likely that the bill will succeed this year. The House already passed it last year, although the changes made to the bill Tuesday means that chamber will need to vote again.

One of those changes — an amendment from Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson — would allow anyone to file a complaint that a sheriff isn't complying with ICE, which would trigger an investigation from the N.C. attorney general and potential court action.

“It gives an enforcement mechanism opportunity for the attorney general's office and a complaint mechanism to be brought from the general public, federal agencies or other law enforcement,” Newton said.

Newton said the bill could be on the Senate floor later this week.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.