Editorial: Stop pandering to fear. Let sheriffs protect everyone in their communities

Posted September 10, 2019 5:00 a.m. EDT

CBC Editorial: Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019; Editorial #8462
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company.

The leaders of North Carolina’s General Assembly are intent on telling people who don’t work for them – county sheriffs -- how to do their jobs and to take on expensive and distracting tasks that aren’t their responsibility.

In the process, these legislative leaders are NOT allowing sheriffs to do the job they were elected to do and jeopardizing safety in their communities. They demand sheriffs act in ways that violate the rights everyone is promised by our Constitution – and say they can be removed from office if they don’t.

Here’s the deal. The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has a policy known as the 287(g) program. It is non-mandatory and allows ICE to “deputize” local law enforcement agencies such as county sheriffs to: interview individuals about their immigration status; check Department of Homeland Security databases for information about individuals; and hold them on “detainer.”

The state legislature has passed a bill, rightly vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper, that would REQUIRE all county sheriffs to check everyone they arrest against the federal immigration database; and hold them on detainer for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

A Cato Institute study that looked at the state found that increased enforcement in the 287(g) program “did not reduce crime in North Carolina.” According to an analysis by The Charlotte Observer, in the Southeast ICE has been arresting more immigrants without criminal records.

In North Carolina – and the rest of the nation – everyone accused of a crime is entitled to a hearing – generally before a magistrate – as to the nature of the charge against them. The magistrate (or judge) will determine if they will be confined and/or conditions of their release (bail).

Citizenship status has nothing to do with decisions concerning holding someone in jail or setting bail. Those determinations are made with knowledge of the charges against them, other pending charges and a defendant’s criminal record.

While much has been made of the August release of Oscar Pacheco-Leonardo – it has nothing to do with any action or inaction of the local sheriff. Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden was right in saying: “Upon fulfilling his court ordered terms and conditions of release, including the payment of a $100,000 bond, Pacheco-Leonardo was released from Detention Center Central on June 16th as required by law. Setting bond amounts and conditions of release are the responsibility of Mecklenburg County judges and magistrates.”

Any concerns about any potential failures should be focused on magistrates and the bail system.

Whether someone is a citizen or not; whether a person is in the United States legally or illegally is not in and of itself a presumption as to their danger to the public or guilt of a crime they’ve been charged with.

Unless our judicial process mandates it, no one should be confined – not even for a couple of days -- because someone outside that system “asked” it be done. If anyone is going to be kept in jail – agencies like ICE can go to the courts to get a warrant for an arrest. That is how justice works in a free society.

Gov. Roy Cooper was right when, in his veto message, he said: “This legislation is simply about scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina. … 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 do the job of federal agents.

Speaker Tim Moore knows he doesn’t have the votes to override the veto – so stop the political games and pandering to fear. Leave sheriffs alone to make sure everyone – no matter where they come from or how they arrived – knows they can trust local law enforcement to look after the safety of their community.

Fix any problems with the state’s bail system with thorough study that identifies weaknesses and REAL solution.

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