North Carolina

5 questionable claims about NC’s proposed ICE cooperation law

You may have heard inaccurate information about a bill that would force North Carolina’s sheriffs to work with immigration officials.

The bill, House Bill 370, would require sheriffs to detain a person who is wanted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE. The bill has been controversial, with Democrats saying it infringes on the rights of sheriffs and Republicans saying it’s necessary to keep North Carolinians safe.

Amid the debate, politicians and advocates have made false or misleading statements about what the bill would do.

Here are a few claims that need to be addressed.

Claim: Some NC sheriffs refuse to comply with the law.

Republican NC Sen. Dan Bishop of Mecklenburg County, who’s running for Congress against Democrat Dan McCready, tweeted on June 25 that the bill “will force sanctuary sheriffs to comply with the law & end their dangerous catch and release program for criminal illegal aliens.”

There are no laws that require sheriffs to comply with ICE detainers. (That’s part of the reason Republicans want to pass the bill.)

Here’s how it works: When ICE learns that one of their persons-of-interest has been arrested and jailed, a letter is sent to the sheriff who took custody of the inmate. This letter, known as an ICE detainer request, asks the sheriff to let ICE interview the person and possibly take custody.

As PolitiFact has previously reported, the requests aren’t considered warrants and federal law doesn’t mandate compliance. So, contrary to what Bishop tweeted, sheriffs who ignore ICE requests aren’t breaking a law.

There’s also no formal “catch and release program,” as Bishop suggests. Sheriffs release inmates after inmates post bond, have served their jail sentence or are cleared for release pursuant to a court order.

Claim: The bill is a ‘show me your papers’ law.

The “show me your papers” phrase, tweeted by the immigrant advocacy group United We Dream, is a reference to a 2010 Arizona law that required police officers to ask detainees about their immigration status if the officer suspected the detainee was in the country illegally.

Arizona’s law, which was later amended after a court settlement, allowed for police to confront a person in the streets if they believed he or she was in the country illegally — which civil rights advocates said would lead to racial profiling.

But that’s not how North Carolina’s HB 370 would work.

The NC bill would require a sheriff’s office to, upon receiving an ICE detainer request, take the inmate to a judicial official. The judicial official would then determine whether the sheriff should maintain custody of the detainee, who would be released if:

  • he or she isn’t wanted for deportation by ICE
  • ICE doesn’t assume custody within 48 hours of its request, or
  • ICE rescinds its detainment request.

Like NC, other states have tried to crack down on cities and sheriffs who refuse to cooperate with ICE. A 2017 story by The Dallas Morning News offers a helpful comparison between Texas’ ban on sanctuary cities and Arizona’s law.

Claim: The bill will ‘force sheriffs to comply with ICE’s elective 287(g) program.’

NC Sen. Wiley Nickel, a Wake County Democrat, made this claim in a recent newsletter to his supporters.

Democrats consider the bill to be Republican retaliation against sheriffs who recently ended their 287(g) programs. But, it’s important to note that House Bill 370 makes no mention of the 287(g) program.

Screen grab of an email newsletter sent by NC Sen. Wiley Nickel on June 25, 2019.

The 287(g) program is a voluntary agreement between ICE and a local sheriff’s office that allows some sheriff’s deputies to act as ICE agents. ICE pays for the cost of those deputies’ training and technology, but deputies themselves are still paid by the local sheriff’s budget.

HB 370’s main objective is to require sheriffs to comply with ICE detainers, the letters that ICE sends to sheriffs asking them to maintain custody of an inmate.

The Charlotte Observer recently wrote about the distinction between ICE detainers and 287(g). The bill and the 287(g) program have some similarities. Under each, an interview with the inmate is conducted, and a detainer is issued and honored.

However, sheriffs’ offices can comply with ICE detainers without being part of the 287(g) program.

Also, HB 370 would not require deputies to interview inmates about their immigration status, something the 287(g) program allows. And unlike 287(g), HB 370 makes judicial officials — not deputies or ICE agents — responsible for determining whether an ICE detainer should be honored.

“Our bill in no way federalizes deputies at all,” said NC Rep. Destin Hall, a bill sponsor.

Hall, a Republican from Caldwell County, told The News & Observer that he has had “no conversations” with other legislators about forcing sheriffs into the 287(g) program. He speculated that there would be obstacles to mandating the program across the board.

“I don’t foresee us pushing 287(g) to be mandated,” he said.

Claim: The bill is about illegal immigrants who ‘committed crimes.’

This claim was made by NC House Speaker Tim Moore in a June 24 press release. This gives the impression that the immigrants are detained only if they’re found guilty of a crime — which is not the case.

The bill affects anyone detained by law enforcement, which means it could apply to immigrants who are arrested but later found not guilty of the crime they were arrested for.

Claim: The bill responds to ‘a public outcry’ to crack down on ‘a handful of North Carolina county sheriffs.’

Republican NC Rep. Brenden Jones in a June 12 press release said he and other bill supporters filed HB 370 in response to “public outcry.” U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who also supports the bill, wrote in a recent op-ed that ICE detainers are ignored by “a handful of North Carolina county sheriffs.”

Other bill supporters have suggested that the sheriffs refusing to cooperate with ICE hold unpopular opinions supported by a small group of people. These statements hold some validity, but lack context about recent elections that offer a broader picture.

Last year, six of North Carolina’s seven most populous counties elected new African American sheriffs — and many of them campaigned on limiting their collaboration with ICE.

The sheriffs of Buncombe, Durham, Mecklenburg and Wake counties have been vocal opponents of HB 370. Altogether, they represent more than 2.5 million people: roughly 25 percent of the state.

This story was produced by the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project, a partnership of McClatchy Carolinas, the Duke University Reporters’ Lab and PolitiFact. The NC Local News Lab Fund and the International Center for Journalists provide support for the project, which shares fact-checks with newsrooms statewide. To offer ideas for fact checks, email

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Paul “Andy” Specht reports on North Carolina leaders and state politics for The News & Observer and PolitiFact. Specht previously covered Raleigh City Hall and town governments around the Triangle. He’s a Raleigh native who graduated from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. Contact him at or (919) 829-4870.
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