"The Sanctuary Policies Of The Mecklenburg And Buncombe County Sheriffs Are Reckless And Pose Increased Harm To The Public And To Law Enforcement"
Statement by U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray
"The Sheriffs of Mecklenburg and Buncombe Counties have adopted ‘sanctuary’ policies that endanger our communities and shield criminals from immigration enforcement.
"In 2019, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office alone failed to honor over 200 detainers issued by U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE), which means that more than a couple of hundred criminal aliens charged with criminal offenses were released back to the community. And those are the ones we can account for.
"By ignoring federal immigration detainers and administrative warrants, and refusing to simply inform ICE officers when an unlawful alien who has committed a criminal act is due to be released to the community, the Sheriffs of Mecklenburg and Buncombe Counties prioritize the protection of criminal aliens above the safety and protection of our communities.
"Rather than uphold our nation’s laws, the Sheriffs compromise the safety of the people they swore to serve and protect. Regardless of the crime the removable aliens have committed; regardless of whether they assaulted women or raped children; regardless of whether they trafficked deadly drugs; and regardless of the likelihood they will commit more crime as soon as they return to the community, criminal aliens are permitted to walk out of prison, free to reoffend in communities they had no right to be in the first place.
"The common-sense approach of removing illegal aliens who have committed a criminal act currently in place in other North Carolina jurisdictions works extremely well. After illegal aliens have been arrested and charged with a crime, they are fingerprinted and booked into jail. When federal immigration authorities learn that a criminal alien who has been arrested is in a jurisdiction’s custody, ICE officers issue a detainer request accompanied by a civil arrest warrant, and ask the sheriff’s office to either notify them before the criminal alien is released, or hold the charged individual long enough to arrange a transfer to federal custody in a safe setting.
"But Mecklenburg and Buncombe County Sheriffs refuse to honor ICE detainers, purporting their hands are tied because these formal detainers are not sufficiently ‘legal’ enough to hold criminal aliens in custody. Their stance is so extreme, that the Sheriffs not only fail to honor a detainer by briefly holding a criminal alien of interest for ICE, they refuse to even make a courtesy call to ICE officers notifying them that a defendant has either satisfied bail conditions or served a jail sentence and is being processed for release.
"So, instead of protecting their communities and cooperating with law enforcement partners, the Sheriffs play the blame-game and instead point their fingers at a flawed judicial system and the absence of federal criminal charging documents for the criminals they have chosen to let loose.
"This blame-game is a complete fallacy. The Sheriffs are well aware that state crimes are not necessarily federal offenses, and even if they are, ICE needs additional time to verify the proper identification of the criminal alien along with prior criminal history and deportations, and gather any additional evidence before presenting a case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Once a case is in the federal prosecutors’ hands, an internal review process, which includes supervisory oversight, ensures federal charges are appropriate and the defendant’s identity and status have been thoroughly vetted.
"The Sheriffs claim that releasing into our communities criminal aliens – many of whom have extensive criminal histories - boosts the confidence of immigrant communities in law enforcement, increases their trust in law enforcement, and sends the message that law enforcement are working hard to make their streets safer. That notion is false and dangerous. Upon release from custody, criminal aliens oftentimes seek a safe harbor by returning to the same immigrant communities, where they are prone to reoffend. Ultimately, the Sheriffs’ misguided stance puts the very communities they purport to respect and protect in increased danger, and puts the lives of our law enforcement officers and the public at large at an increased risk of harm.
"When criminal aliens are released, law enforcement officers are forced to go into unknown and potentially dangerous situations to locate and re-arrest the same criminals that could have been taken into custody in the controlled and weapon-free environment of a jail. Instead, the Sheriffs’ current nonsensical policy protects criminals and needlessly endangers the lives of their fellow law enforcement officers, who simply want to do their jobs well and as safely as possible, so that they, too, can return to their loved ones at the end of their work day.
"Equally noteworthy is the fact that collateral consequences are also a real possibility whenever law enforcement attempts to place someone in custody in a dynamic environment like a vehicle stop or a residential arrest. Innocent bystanders in the vicinity are at risk of harm when a known criminal chooses "fight or flight" rather than peaceful compliance with law enforcement. As we’ve seen in recent months, such dangerous encounters can lead to police stand-offs and shootings.
"I urge the Sheriffs of Mecklenburg and Buncombe Counties to do the job they were elected to do, protect every single member of the community from increased risk of harm, and stop needlessly and irresponsibly thrusting fellow law enforcement officers into harm’s way.
"The people of our communities deserve more and have a right to expect their Sheriffs to do all they can to make our streets safe, and our communities a place where we can live, work, and raise our families.
"As a former federal law enforcement officer with the U.S. Coast Guard, a former District Attorney for Mecklenburg County, and currently as U.S. Attorney for Western North Carolina, I can attest that cooperation and coordination between local, state, and federal law enforcement is the only effective strategy that can make our crime fighting efforts successful and stem the tide of increased violence. United we stand and divided we fail.
"I call upon the Sheriffs of Mecklenburg and Buncombe Counties to abandon their misguided sanctuary policies that do nothing but shield criminals, put at risk the safety of our neighborhoods, and jeopardize the lives of law enforcement officers.
Let’s work together to make all of our communities as safe as possible and let’s do everything in our power to prevent the loss of innocent life."