Sheriff Blackwood

Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood

On Tuesday, the North Carolina House of Representatives passed a bill by a 62-53 margin that would require cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers from sheriffs. The bill, titled House Bill 370, headed to the desk of North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, who vetoed the bill Wednesday afternoon.

Governor Cooper released a statement on his website after his decision to veto the bill.

"This legislation is simply about scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina," Cooper stated on his website. "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. 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."

Before the bill was vetoed Wednesday by Governor Cooper, Orange County Sheriff Charles Blackwood released a statement Tuesday night regarding the bill.

“The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has always complied with local, state and federal law,” the statement reads. “In addition, we cooperate with local, state and federal enforcement agencies when working together ensures the safety of those we are entrusted to protect. Mutual aid agreements are one example of this cooperation. Interagency task forces are another. These are voluntary working relationships where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

Later in Sheriff Blackwood’s statement he includes what he believes “are four major flaws in the proposed legislation set out in House Bill 370.”

House Bill 370  requires “that a prisoner subject to a detainer and administrative warrant be taken before a judicial official without unnecessary delay,” as stated on the North Carolina General Assembly website. The bill also requires “a judicial official to order that a prisoner subject to a detainer and administrative warrant be held in custody.”

Sheriff Blackwood’s statement critiques that requirement, which he says violates an individual’s constitutional rights.

“Asking a North Carolina Judicial Official to issue an Order to hold anyone for any length of time for a civil violation of federal law violates a person’s constitutional rights. (Yes, people here without proper documentation receive protection under the US Constitution),” the statement reads.

The bill also states that sheriffs would be removed from office if they did not comply with ICE detainers. In July 2018, Sheriff Blackwood received criticism from ICE for his “refusal to honor ICE’s detainer,” according to an article by Chapelboro.com.

In Sheriff Blackwood’s statement, he suggests that making sheriffs comply with detainer requests could limit some of the power of the Sheriff’s Office.

“Forcing a Sheriff to honor a detainer request erodes the Office of Sheriff, opening the door for the General Assembly to weaken further the authority and discretion vested in that Office,” the statement reads.

Sheriff Blackwood also states that he believes detainer requests should stay a federal matter, but the bill would allow state judicial officials and sheriffs to exert power in immigration enforcement.

“A mechanism already exists to accomplish ICE’s objective,” Sheriff Blackwood’s statement reads. “Obtaining a detainer or warrant signed by a federal judicial official provides the necessary authority for a Sheriff to continue to hold a person in custody. Immigration issues are a federal matter, best left to federal authorities. The General Assembly should not require state judicial officials or North Carolina Sheriffs to become involved in federal immigration enforcement.”

Sheriff Blackwood notes that the Orange County Sheriff’s Office holds individuals in detention centers when told to do so by law, but that detaining someone because of an ICE request does not “give us legal authority. Keeping a person without legal authority is a violation of a person’s constitutional rights. It is not a matter of cooperation.”

The proposed legislation has had a polarizing effect on officials in the state, and Sheriff Blackwood is not the only person who has spoken out against it. Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden released a statement Tuesday regarding his “disappointment” that the bill had passed in the North Carolina House, according to WBTV.com

Although some sheriffs are opposed to the bill, the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association stated its support for the revised legislation in June.

Sheriff Blackwood does make it clear in his statement that the Orange County Sheriff’s Office works with ICE. 

“The role of ICE is to enforce the immigration laws of the United States and to investigate criminal and terrorist activity of transnational organizations and aliens within the United States,” the statement reads. “Pursuant to North Carolina General Statutes § 162-62, we are required to inquire about the immigration status of anyone arrested for a Felony or DWI and we comply with this requirement. This inquiry occurs automatically when we submit the person’s fingerprints at the time of arrest.”

Sheriff Blackwood notes that while the Orange County Sheriff’s Office does not comply with detainer requests when submitted by ICE because he believes holding someone for an extended period of time violates their constitutional rights, he does notify ICE of the individual’s release date, if it is available. 

“In cases where we do not know the release date (for example when an inmate is awaiting trial), we indicate the date as unknown in our response,” the statement reads. 

Sheriff Blackwood notes that the person will not be held after their release date, but if ICE arrives while the person is still being held, they have “the authority to take the person into their custody.”

The statement notes that the Orange County Sheriff’s Office will continue to operate as it has in the past.