In this 2016 file photo, a demonstrator protests North Carolina immigration bills that advocates say are meant to target undocumented people. Gov. Roy Cooper recently vetoed GOP lawmakers' latest attempt to crack down on  undocumented people in the state. (Shutterstock) NC Immigration
In this 2016 file photo, a demonstrator protests North Carolina immigration bills that advocates say are meant to target undocumented people. Gov. Roy Cooper recently vetoed GOP lawmakers' latest attempt to crack down on undocumented people in the state. (Shutterstock)

Republicans want local law enforcement to get involved in immigration, but advocates worried it would feed racial profiling. 

In 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would force county sheriffs to effectively enforce federal immigration law by holding onto inmates suspected of being in the country illegally and requiring them to notify federal law enforcement. 

On Monday, Cooper vetoed a similar bill meant to revive the GOP immigration crackdown. 

Advocates and Cooper both see fear-mongering at play in Republicans’ latest attempt, SB 101, which passed the N.C. House and Senate on party-line votes. The legislation would have required county sheriffs to hold onto inmates arrested for felonies and some misdemeanors for two days. Because there was no Democratic support for the bill, that means Republicans don’t have the votes to override Cooper’s veto this year. 

“This law is only about scoring political points and using fear to divide North Carolinians,” Cooper said in vetoing the bill. “As the state’s former top law enforcement officer [Cooper was Attorney General from 2001 to 2017], I know that current law already allows the state to incarcerate and prosecute dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status. This bill is unconstitutional and weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating that sheriffs do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their ability to protect their counties.”

Cooper’s statement echoes some local sheriffs who have complained about the legislature telling them how to police their communities and when to cooperate with federal law enforcement. Only federal law enforcement under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can deport those in the country illegally. 

“ICE needs to do their job and not expect us to do their job,” Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden told members of the Senate Judiciary committee last year, according to WRAL.

Advocates worried about racial profiling and the ability of law enforcement to hold onto people who haven’t been convicted of a crime. 

“We know that not everyone brought into the jail is guilty of the crime they’re being accused of,” said Maria Gonzalez, the policy advocacy manager at El Pueblo, to the News & Observer. “We know that Black and brown people, which many immigrants are, get racially profiled. Immigrants are not criminals just because we are immigrants, and we do not commit crimes at a higher rate (as) several representatives have stated.”

Ultimately, advocates see an election-year political move rather than Republicans worried about public safety.  

“SB 101 was an effort to rally anti-immigrant sentiments ahead of the upcoming elections. We’re glad the Governor did right by his immigrant constituents and vetoed SB 101,“ said Iliana Santillian, Executive Director of El Pueblo, in a news release. “We’re thankful for our community for fighting against this anti-immigrant bill, the defeat of SB 101 happened because of community efforts.”