RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Federal immigration officials blasted local sheriffs who’ve stopped cooperating with them, accusing them of endangering public safety.
Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Matthew Albence held a round table event with several Republican lawmakers Monday, as those legislators have tried to force the sheriffs to work with ICE.
“This is an affront to law enforcement and to the rule of law,” said Wolf. “Refusing to cooperate with ICE has consequences, major consequences.”
Sheriffs in several of the state’s largest counties, including Wake and Durham, were elected last year in part because they ran on a platform of ending any relationships with ICE in an effort to build trust in the immigrant community.
That includes no longer honoring what is known as “detainer” requests, in which a sheriff will hold a suspect at the jail to give enough time for ICE agents to take that person into custody.
Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker declined to comment Monday, with a spokesperson referring CBS 17 to a previous statement he released. “The Wake County Sheriff’s Office has no role in immigration enforcement,” he said.
ICE estimates sheriffs have refused to honor at least 500 detainer requests in fiscal year 2019.
“There are those who value their own political self-interests over the safety and security of their constituents,” said Albence, the acting director of ICE.
The Republican-controlled state legislature passed a bill (HB 370) earlier this year to force sheriffs to cooperate with ICE.
Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoed the bill, calling it unconstitutional.
Following Monday’s event, Sen. Wiley Nickel (D-Wake) released a statement: “The Trump Presidency is a cancer on our democracy. HB 370 and the visit by the ‘Acting’ DHS Secretary and ‘Acting’ Director of ICE show that this cancer is spreading to the North Carolina General Assembly. This bill takes a page from the Trump playbook and would remove Sheriffs from office who are doing all they can to ensure the safety of their communities. House Bill 370 is totally unnecessary, diverts local resources, diminishes sheriffs’ autonomy and makes our communities less safe.”
During Monday’s round table, four people who lost loved ones in car crashes caused by people in the country illegally spoke about their concerns with the position the sheriffs have taken.
“Every day I wake up thinking about it,” said Chris Storie. She was in a car with her brother Joe in Kill Devil Hills in 2011 when a driver hit them. While she and two other relatives survived, Joe was killed.
She said after making bail, the man responsible fled and has never faced justice.
“So, he’s walking free now. And, my brother is permanently separated from his three sons,” Storie said.
Angeline Echeverria, executive director of El Pueblo, tried to watch the round table but was not allowed inside the event.
“It was only ICE representatives that were invited as well as legislators and other politicians who are looking to make a name for themselves on the backs of immigrant communities,” she said. “They didn’t invite any of the law enforcement representatives who have sought to create a different tone in terms of their relationship with the immigrant community.”
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