The sheriffs and the proposed state law follow a conspiracy

Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden.

Observer file photo

One of the great illusions in politics is that the Republican Party always supports law enforcement.

If that were true, Republicans would not be encouraging gun proliferation, former President Donald Trump’s supporters would not be attacking U.S. Capitol Police officers, and the Republican Party would not be about to give its presidential nomination to a man charged with four crimes. fallen.

And in North Carolina, Republicans would not try to force sheriffs to ignore the Constitution and endanger public safety. But that’s where the so-called Law and Order party is headed as the General Assembly prepares to open its short session Wednesday.

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For the fourth time in five years, Republican state lawmakers will try to pass a law requiring sheriffs to detain arrested people who may be in the U.S. illegally for up to 48 hours. The detention would allow agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE, to take the detainees into federal custody for possible deportation.

The proposed ICE cooperation requirement — which was vetoed twice by Governor Roy Cooper and stalled in the Senate last session — will likely become law this time. Republicans have a veto-proof majority and the crackdown on immigrants is a red meat issue for Republicans in an election year.

Iliana Santillan, executive director of the Spanish-language advocacy group El Pueblo, said: “Once again, our immigrant communities are being used as pawns for political and electoral gain by our representatives, who should be working to protect us.”

Sheriffs in smaller counties support the proposed law, House Bill 10, but those in the state’s largest counties do not. When similar legislation was considered last year, 11 sheriffs signed a letter opposing it. They say the proposed law would impose additional costs on local taxpayers, expose sheriff’s offices to lawsuits and make it harder to solve crimes.

Moreover, the proposed bill is unnecessary. State law already requires sheriffs to alert ICE when arresting someone who may be in the U.S. illegally. The question is whether sheriffs should continue to detain people who have posted bail or are otherwise eligible for release.

“If a person is arrested and we determine that we don’t know their citizenship, we contact ICE and they send a detainee,” said Mecklenburg Sheriff Garry McFadden. “But the law says we cannot detain them after they have met all the criteria for release.”

McFadden added, “Can you hold this guy? Under whose authority? You are going to force us to house these people – not arrest these people – house them.”

Nevertheless, McFadden said, “If this becomes law, we will follow the law.”

Passing a state law that forces sheriffs to detain people eligible for release will not resolve the constitutional issue. However, it will pass the cost of holding inmates onto county taxpayers and could expose sheriffs to lawsuits. McFadden said his office recently paid $80,000 in legal fees to fight such a lawsuit.

In addition to raising constitutional questions, the proposed law will do the opposite of what its proponents claim about how it will improve public safety. Making sheriffs an extension of ICE weakens sheriffs’ ability to respond to crimes. If migrants believe that interacting with a sheriff will expose them or their family members to deportation, they are unlikely to report crimes or assist in arrests and prosecutions.

Wake County Sheriff Willie Rowe said, “I want to make our communities safer, but HB 10 will make us less safe by fueling distrust in local law enforcement,” he said in a statement. “No one should fear interacting with the Wake County Sheriff’s Office because of their federal immigration status.”

The fourth time will probably be a charm for this ill-conceived legislation. It will help Republicans’ reelection efforts, but — as the sheriffs of North Carolina’s largest counties make clear — it will hurt law enforcement.

Associate opinion editor Ned Barnett can be reached at 919-404-7583, or nbarnett@