Viewpoint

Thom Tillis: NC, Congress should compel cities, counties to obey ICE

Should local officials communicate with federal immigration law enforcement on the status and release of illegal immigrants who were arrested, charged with a crime, and pose a threat to public safety?

A handful of North Carolina county sheriffs don’t think so, taking the extraordinary step of refusing to comply with the lawful requests made by federal officers for release notifications and detainers for illegal immigrant criminals.

Circumventing a 2017 state law outlawing sanctuary cities, some North Carolina sheriffs are effectively turning their counties into new sanctuary jurisdictions by making it harder for federal law enforcement to keep tabs on and ultimately deport dangerous criminals who are in the United States illegally.

We recently witnessed this problem come to the forefront in Charlotte as the direct result of the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s reckless sanctuary policy. The high-profile incident involved an illegal immigrant who was previously deported in 2006, and then re-entered the U.S. illegally. This May, the individual was arrested twice in a two-week span, the second arrest following a nine-hour standoff with police. He was subsequently charged with multiple assault charges after strangling a woman and threatening to murder her.

After ICE placed a lawful detainer on the individual, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s office ignored the request.

Unfortunately, this is not the only troubling example. In 2019, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s office has refused to comply with ICE detainer requests for dozens of other dangerous individuals, including those charged with rape, kidnapping, and assault with a deadly weapon.

This has prompted Andrew Murray, the widely respected U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, to come out publicly to outline his serious concerns regarding the new sanctuary policies of releasing dangerous criminal illegal immigrants back into the community to potentially commit more violent crimes.

I applaud the members of the North Carolina General Assembly who are advancing House Bill 370 (HB370), which would require sheriffs to cooperate with federal officials, putting an end to sanctuary jurisdictions.

Congress also has a duty to stop the growing trend of sanctuary jurisdictions, which is why I plan next month to take action at the federal level by introducing the Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act.

My legislation is based on a simple premise: if local and state politicians want to create sanctuary jurisdictions, they should be held accountable when their policies result in harm to citizens. My legislation allows the victims or families of violent crimes to seek compensatory damages from a sanctuary jurisdiction that refused to comply with a federal official’s request for a detainer or release notification for the illegal immigrant who committed the crime.

My legislation requires a sanctuary state, county, or city to waive immunity as it relates to sanctuary-related civil action as a condition of receiving certain types of federal grants for economic development and public works. The failure to waive immunity would result in the withholding of those grants. While some local politicians may complain it’s a tough bargain, it should be noted that the handful of North Carolina sheriffs implementing sanctuary policies claim that it poses no threat to public safety. Therefore, it should be assumed that signing the waiver would be an easy decision.

It’s unfortunate that we even need legislation like HB370 at the state level or the Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act at the federal level. It has long been assumed that local law enforcement would at least make a good-faith effort to help fulfill lawful requests made by federal law enforcement. However, given the recent embrace of irresponsible sanctuary policies over public safety, the time for action – and accountability – is now.

Thom Tillis is a U.S. Senator representing North Carolina.
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