Miller, feds spar over ICE detainer compliance

Andrew Murray
FLAGGING THE ISSUE: Andrew Murray, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, chastised Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller for refusing to honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests. Photo by Daniel Walton

According to Andrew Murray, U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina, federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were pounding the pavement throughout Buncombe County on the “yucky” afternoon of Oct. 30 in search of Marvin Torres. Just the day prior, he said, ICE had known exactly where to find the undocumented alien: the Buncombe County Detention Center, where Torres was being released after over two years in jail awaiting trial for a felony charge of indecent liberties with a minor. Torres was convicted and sentenced to time served by Superior Court Judge Alan Thornburg on Oct. 28.

But because Democratic Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller had refused to honor an ICE detainer request for Torres, Murray continued, the sex offender reentered the community before federal authorities could take him into custody. During a press conference at the federal courthouse in Asheville, Murray chastised the sheriff for what he called a “dangerous policy” of noncompliance with immigration officials.

“As law enforcement, our mission is to protect the public and to seek to provide justice to victims of crime. Sheriff Miller’s current policy serves neither [purpose],” Murray said. “It also breeds mistrust among law enforcement agencies and puts in danger the very communities it purports to protect.”

Miller announced in February that he would no longer honor ICE detainers without a valid criminal warrant. Detainers — administrative requests that are issued under federal regulations and are not associated with criminal charges — ask local law enforcement agencies to hold inmates suspected of being in the country illegally for up to two days after they would normally be released. In July, Democratic Buncombe County Commissioners Brownie Newman, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Al Whitesides and Amanda Edwards signed letters supporting Miller’s stance.

“If ICE is aware of an individual that they have determined to be a danger to the public safety of Buncombe County, then ICE should obtain a warrant for their arrest,” Miller stated in a press release about the Torres case. “Once that warrant has been secured, my deputies will work to apprehend that individual.”

Murray claimed, however, that legal circumstances had prevented ICE from obtaining a warrant. First-time illegal entry into the U.S. is treated as a civil offense, he explained, and Torres had no other outstanding criminal charges. “That is the mechanism that ICE has, the detainer, in order to for 48 hours put him on hold and verify he is the person they think he is,” the attorney said.

When asked why Torres should be subject to detention outside of judicial due process, Murray responded, “He’s an illegal alien. That puts him in a different status.” The Citizen Times reports that Torres was taken into federal custody later in the afternoon of Oct. 30.

The case has attracted national attention, with Republican Sen. Thom Tillis issuing his own statement that charged Miller and other North Carolina sheriffs with “dereliction of their duty” for denying ICE detainers. Earlier in the day, Tillis and other Republican lawmakers had introduced the Immigration Detainer Enforcement Act, which they said “will help stop sanctuary cities” by cutting some federal funds for jurisdictions that do not comply with ICE requests.

In August, Republican members of the N.C. General Assembly passed HB 370, which would have required sheriffs to cooperate with ICE detainers on penalty of removal from office. However, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper immediately vetoed the bill, saying the legislation was “simply about scoring partisan political points and using fear to divide North Carolina.” Lawmakers have yet to override the governor’s veto.


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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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9 thoughts on “Miller, feds spar over ICE detainer compliance

  1. Stan Hawkins

    Buncombe County was contacted by this citizen many months ago, using their online information request, asking for a transcript of the oath of office taken by Sheriff Miller. I am still waiting after nine months of no response.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      BC nor the county commissioners never respond to direct questions by me either…sometimes you wonder if they were received? ditto city criminal council…

  2. Robert Byron

    Why didn’t the DA or District Attorney file a warrant for this dude’s arrest? While I agree Sheriff Miller should cooperate with all Federal, State and local agencies to protect the people, where is the warrant for this bad person?

    • Michael John Bruning

      The legal disposition of an Illegal Alien “detainer” is an Administrative action which determines whether the person in question is in the country legally. It is a simple courtesy to hold such a person until a determination can be made. What the Sheriff did and what the Commissioners did is create a divide within law enforcement – a public service which the tax payers fund at every level. It would be expected that Law Enforcement Agency’s – Federal, State and Local could cooperate with each other, rather than have partisan hacks who hold elected office interffer in a long held process of Inter-Agency cooperation.

  3. Big Al

    All of this fuss because the Feds had to pound the pavement in yucky weather for ONE day to catch a criminal?

    Where were the Feds for the TWO YEARS that this guy was incarcerated?

    Why did they need more than 2 days to come get him during the detainer period?

    What a bunch of snowflakes.

    • bsummers

      Because they’d rather use these ginned-up scare tactics to try to force local law enforcement to compromise their primary responsibilities in favor of jumping on the “War on Immigrants”™ bandwagon.

    • Sam

      Thats what you want? Don’t get mad at them when they out into neighborhoods and find people who aren’t necessary low life scum but here illegally.

  4. Enlightened Enigma

    what I don’t get is why ANY African American would not want as many illegals deported as possible ??? WHY are they so complacent and non verbal about it ? effin amazing…always has been… but then they still vote for the original party of slavery too… ???

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