On Wednesday, April 3, the NC Sheriffs’ Association issued a “Position Statement” that made it clear the association is opposed to NC House Bill 370, which would require that sheriff’s departments in North Carolina cooperate with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.  The NC Carolina House of Representatives just approved the bill that could become law.

Right now, sheriff’s departments across the state have some choice as to the extent to which they cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. However, this new bill would allow those departments less leeway in that regard.

In one common scenario that’s often been a cause of contention, ICE will ask for an immigrant to be detained by a sheriff’s department until federal agents can intervene; however, the sheriff may judge that there’s not enough cause to hold the person.  Some sheriffs have said that following ICE detainment instructions in cases could at times open the department up to lawsuits from those arguing they were held illegally.

House Bill 370 requires North Carolina sheriffs to cooperate with ICE in some situations by making it mandatory, for instance, for the department to honor ICE detainer requests for illegal immigrants charged with DUI’s and criminal offenses.

According to the statement from the NC Sheriff’s Association, the association is opposed to illegal immigration but not in favor of this legislation.

“The North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association is opposed to illegal immigration and supports enforcement of the laws against illegal immigration,” the statement reads.  “The Association would like to work with our legislators on acceptable solutions to address illegal immigration in the State.  However, Edition 1 of House Bill 370 is not the appropriate method to address this very important issue.”

According to the statement, the association put careful consideration into its response before coming out against the proposed legislation.

The association added: “It is our understanding that a majority of North Carolina sheriffs honor ICE detainers.  However, federal law does not compel sheriffs to participate in the ICE detainer program.  North Carolina law … is consistent with federal law in that it is lawful for a sheriff to honor, or to decline to honor, an ICE detainer.”

In the statement, the Sheriff’s Association didn’t take a position on the benefits or detriments of participating in the ICE detainer program as it relates to public safety.

The association’s statement calls for legislators to keep the power at the local level and in the hands of elected sheriffs.  It argued that the state’s sheriffs “should retain the ability to decide which lawful method they will utilize in complying with existing federal and state law.”

The Sheriff’s Association added that, while it supports cooperation between sheriffs and all local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, this bill would be an “unwise encroachment on the lawful responsibility of the sheriff, who serves as the ‘keeper of the jail,’”