Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed a bill that would require North Carolina sheriffs to comply with certain requests from federal immigration agents.
The move comes a day after N.C. House members voted along party lines to approve the bill, which would have required sheriffs and other law enforcement officials to honor detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE. The Senate approved the bill in June.
Republicans who control the House and Senate could attempt to override Cooper’s veto, but they don’t have the numbers unless Democrats break ranks. So far, Democrats have been united against the latest version of the bill.
In a statement, Cooper said the bill is an effort by Republican legislators to divide North Carolinians.
“This legislation is simply about scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina,” Cooper’s statement said.
“As the former top law enforcement officer of our state, I know that current law allows the state to jail and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status,” he continued. “This bill, in addition to being unconstitutional, weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating sheriffs to do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their ability to protect their counties.
“Finally, to elevate their partisan political pandering, the legislature has made a sheriff’s violation of this new immigration duty as the only specifically named duty violation that can result in a sheriff’s removal from office.”
Minutes after Cooper’s announcement, Republican leaders released a statement accusing the governor of being more concerned with the rights of people in the country illegally than the safety of North Carolinians.
Sen. Chuck Edwards, a Henderson County Republican, referred to a man who was arrested in Mecklenburg County, released after posting bond, and later captured by ICE. Republicans have repeatedly brought up the incident in the debate.
“Instead of signing this common sense bill, Governor Cooper is choosing to side with sheriffs like the Mecklenburg County Sheriff who in June ignored an ICE detainer request on a man in custody for rape and child sex offense charges and released this dangerous individual back into the community,” Edwards said.
He continued: “Law enforcement officers have a sworn responsibility to protect their citizens and that includes cooperating with federal authorities. Unlike Governor Cooper who prefers to pander to his far left supporters, we will protect North Carolinians and plan to override his irresponsible veto.”
What does it mean for sheriffs?
The veto means sheriffs can continue to choose whether they want to hold people in their jails for ICE to pick up.
Republican lawmakers introduced House Bill 370 less than a year after several of North Carolina’s largest and most-liberal counties — including Wake, Mecklenburg, Durham, and others — elected sheriffs who campaigned on the promise of cutting ties with ICE. Those sheriffs expressed concerns about ICE’s practices and the potential for legal consequences if they held inmates after a judge or magistrate approve their release.
Sheriffs also worried the bill, if enacted into law, would’ve hurt their relationships with immigrants in their communities.
Cooper is up for election next year and is expected to face one of two Republicans: Lt. Gov. Dan Forest or state Rep. Holly Grange of Wilmington. It’s likely that Cooper’s opponents will use political ads to accuse him of endangering the public by vetoing the bill.
Some North Carolinians are likely to hear more about the veto in the coming days. The state is holding special elections for the 3rd Congressional District in Eastern North Carolina and the 9th district between Fayetteville and Charlotte.
Republican state Sen. Dan Bishop, who’s running against Democratic businessman Dan McCready in the 9th district, supported the bill and has mentioned it on the campaign trail — even calling on Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden to resign.
Election Day for those congressional races is Sept. 10.