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In North Carolina, Forsyth County’s New Sheriff Restricts Cooperation with ICE

Bobby Kimbrough announces that he will no longer honor ICE detainer requests nor allow ICE to detain people in the county jail.

Yet another North Carolina county is disentangling its ties to ICE. In December, the incoming sheriffs of Durham County, Mecklenburg County (Charlotte), and Wake County (Raleigh) all announced policies that restricted cooperation with the federal agency.

Bobby Kimbrough, the sheriff of Forsyth County (Winston-Salem), followed suit last week.

He announced that he would no longer allow ICE to use space in the county jail to house people it arrests for being undocumented. ICE is currently authorized to do so as part of the county’s intergovernmental agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service. “What that means is the sheriff’s office will no longer house immigration violators,” he said at a press conference.

Kimbrough also said he would no longer honor ICE requests that he detain people beyond their scheduled release date to give the agency time to pick them up. These detainers come with no judicial warrant, and Kimbrough said honoring them violates constitutional rights: “Basically, I’m detaining somebody’s Fourth Amendment right without due process.” Kimbrough is following on the footsteps of Durham County Sheriff Clarence Birkhead, Mecklenburg County Sheriff Gary McFadden, and Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker, who all announced in December that they would stop honoring ICE detainers. All four of these sheriffs are African-American Democrats who won their first term in 2018 by defeating a white incumbent.

Last week, ICE reacted to the reforms that have occurred in North Carolina with raids that led to the arrest of about 200 people. ICE explicitly connected these raids to the sheriffs’ decisions. “This is a direct correlation between the sheriffs’ dangerous policies of not cooperating with ICE and the fact that we have to continue executing our important law enforcement mission,” Atlanta field office director Sean Gallagher said at a press conference.

Ilana Dubester, founder and executive director of The Hispanic Liaison, told me that ICE was acting in “retaliation” and was “trying to say voters don’t have a choice here. You elected sheriffs that promised to eliminate 287(g), we don’t like that decision, so here’s what you got… If you don’t cooperate with us, we will hit the streets.” The 287(g) program deputizes local officers to act like federal immigration agents; McFadden and Baker terminated Mecklenburg and Wake counties’ participation in December. “They amassed all their forces in North Carolina to do a show of force and to scare the community and sheriffs,” Dubester said.

ICE has said that if sheriffs don’t assist the agency in arresting and detaining people processed at county jails, it needs to conduct more raids and checkpoints in community settings. In response, Dubester noted that the vast majority of counties nationwide lack 287(g) agreements. “Most sheriffs are not participating in 287(g), so what are they going to do? This is an intimidation tactic to scare us into not fighting back, and not fighting these absurd policies.”

Dubester said The Hispanic Liaison was in contact with other state advocacy groups like El Centro Hispano and El Refugio to assist the individuals arrested last week and their families, to identify where people are even being detained, and to raise legal defense funds.

Local activism may have played a role in Kimbrough’s decisions to change county policies. He announced these changes in the aftermath of a local rally held on Feb. 5 in support of Eduardo Fuentes, a man arrested in Winston-Salem for misdemeanor offenses and then detained because local law enforcement honored an ICE request.