Rep. George Holding, facing a tougher-than-expected re-election bid, has seized on a local immigration case and backed a popular sheriff in the final days of the campaign in a district that includes much of suburban Wake County.
Holding attacked Democratic opponent Linda Coleman for her support of sanctuary cities throughout the campaign, releasing a television ad and criticizing her during debates. Now Holding has thrown his support behind Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison, a Republican who is facing an attack from the ACLU for his work with the Trump administration on detaining undocumented immigrants.
“Donnie Harrison is 100 percent right,” Holding said in a statement released Thursday. “And I stand with him.”
President Donald Trump, too, has tried to turn the final days of the midterm elections into a referendum on immigration, sending the military to the Southern border to stop a caravan of Central American migrants walking toward the U.S., announcing his opposition to birthright citizenship and tweeting an ad that claims Democrats allowed a convicted murderer to get into and stay in the country.
In North Carolina’s 2nd District, which includes parts or all of Wake, Franklin, Harnett, Johnston, Nash and Wilson counties, Holding plans to make it part of his closing argument as well.
“That’s certainly an issue that separates George and Linda Coleman, an issue they disagree on. It’s been a big issue in the campaign and it’s one of the final things that’s being debated,” said Carter Wrenn, Holding’s campaign manager.
In late October, a 29-year-old man who was born in El Salvador was extradited from New Jersey to Raleigh to face four charges of raping a 13-year-old girl and one charge of taking indecent liberties with a child. Mario Sigfredo Deras-Lopez is being held in Wake County. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said that he is in the country illegally and has requested he be held for 48 hours so it can take custody of him if he is to be released.
Also, the Wake County Sheriff’s Office is one of six in North Carolina that participates in the federal 287(g) program, which allows state and local law enforcement agencies to partner with ICE to detain people living in the country illegally, according to previous News & Observer reporting.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently took out ads hitting Harrison for participating in the program, saying he “is pushing Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda, tearing families apart and stoking racial tensions. How? Harrison has a special agreement with the Trump administration to detain immigrants using local resources.”
Harrison’s Democratic challenger Gerald M. Baker does not support the program.
The 287(g) program is not the reason Deras-Lopez will be held for ICE and potential deportation.
“The ACLU is wrong to attack Sheriff Harrison. Because of Sheriff Harrison’s cooperation with ICE, Deras-Lopez will be deported after his trial – Donnie Harrison is making our community safer,” Holding said in the statement.
Holding, a former U.S. attorney, also said Coleman “is wrong to support sanctuary cities.” At a candidate forum in April, Coleman said she supported sanctuary cities, which refers to locales that refuse to cooperate with ICE on detainers. There are no sanctuary cities in North Carolina, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. North Carolina lawmakers passed a ban on sanctuary cities in the state in 2015.
Coleman, a former state lawmaker and two-time candidate for lieutenant governor, told The News & Observer in October that since there are no sanctuary cities in the 2nd District or in the state, “I don’t even know why that is an issue. If you don’t have any issues that resonate with people in your district, you end up trying to come up with things that will define me in a negative way.”
During a debate last week, Holding said, “I believe this is an incredibly important issue,” and added that as a member of Congress, Coleman could have to vote on laws that would trump state laws.
“They’re in other parts of the country and they could be here unless we stop it in Washington,” Holding said.
Coleman said Holding is “fear-mongering.”
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“I am concerned with the safety and security of our communities and our country. No criminal, no criminal, whether they are an illegal immigrant or an American citizen, no criminal should go unpunished,” she said. “They should be prosecuted at the fullest extent of the law.”
Holding won the district with more than 56 percent of the vote in 2016, but Coleman has made it a competitive race this cycle. Outside groups have spent nearly $3.3 million in the district, according to the Federal Election Commission. A recent poll by Raleigh-based Civitas Institute, a conservative policy group, had Holding up by nine points. That comes after a poll by the group showed a statistical dead heat in September.