The N.C. Senate voted 25-18 Monday night to approve a bill that would force the state’s 100 sheriffs to cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement on detainers to hold jail inmates who may be in the country illegally.
The vote followed a 70-minute debate in which 11 senators spoke about their support or opposition to the bill. Seven senators, including state Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, were absent and didn’t cast a vote. The vote mostly followed partisan lines with Republicans supporting it and Democrats voting against it.
State. Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, voted against the legislation, saying that it targets sheriffs who have decided not to cooperate with ICE.
“This bill is an attack on certain sheriffs,” Lowe said. “I don’t think it’s ready for prime time.”
State Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Buncombe, said that the bill is the right approach because it protects law-abiding residents from repeat offenders who are undocumented immigrants.
“These are people in the country illegally who want to hurt us,” Edwards said.
After the vote, Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger said that Senate will return the bill to the N.C. House and ask those legislators to vote on the changes that the Senate approved.
Earlier Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper said he opposed the bill, hours after activists who also oppose the bill called on him to do just that.
Cooper called the proposed law unconstitutional, and while he did not promise to veto the bill, opponents were saying on Twitter that they were heartened by the governor’s stand.
State Rep. Derwin Montgomery, D-Forsyth, hosted a Monday morning news conference at which groups opposing the legislation spoke out against the measure.
The bill was passed by the N.C. House on April 3 by a 64-50 vote, mostly along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. Montgomery, who represents the 72nd District, voted against HB370.
“It has always been my position on any policy that we need to let local communities decide what is in the best interest for them, especially for local law enforcement,” Montgomery said at the start of the news conference Monday morning.
Speakers included representatives of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union, along with religious leaders, members of the Hispanic community and other activists opposed to the legislation.
Many of the speakers called attention to the decisions by newly elected black sheriffs in some major urban counties not to uphold what are called detainers — written requests by immigration officials to extend time in custody for people who are charged with a crime. Detainers give ICE — Immigration Customs and Enforcement — 48 hours to decide whether to pick up suspects on the belief that they are in the country illegally.
HB370 has a provision for the removal from office of sheriffs who do not cooperate with the ICE on the detainers.
Cooper, in a statement released from his office mid-afternoon, said dangerous criminals can already be locked up and prosecuted, but that the bill was “about scoring political points and using fear to divide us.”
The Rev. Anthony Spearman, the president of the state NAACP, said during the morning press conference that the legislation was meant to target the black sheriffs.
He called it “a tactic straight off the pages of the white supremacist playbook.” He said voters in the counties that elected the sheriffs “have all said that we want sheriffs who will not be slaves to the immigration and enforcement authorities that tear this nation apart.”
“We have come to stand in solidarity with those sheriffs and the immigrants, especially the children ... the most vulnerable among us,” Spearman said.
Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough was among the newly elected black sheriffs who ended cooperation with the detainers following his election. Kimbrough has said that while he opposes HB370, he will follow the law if it is passed.