The Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office will no longer honor requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold detainees on ICE’s behalf without a valid criminal warrant.
“I understand that I will be attacked for this policy directive, maybe even by ICE,” Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller said during a Tuesday morning press conference.
The department will continue to honor criminal warrants signed by a judicial official. “However, a detainer request is not a valid warrant,” Miller said. “Again, if ICE, the FBI, the [Department of Homeland Security] or any law enforcement agency provides a valid criminal warrant, that person will be handed over to that agency.”
In 2018, sheriff’s department spokesperson Aaron Sarver says, ICE put holds on 38 detainees in the Buncombe County Detention Center. The agency ultimately picked up 20 of those detainees.
The county does not receive a reimbursement from ICE for the cost of holding those individuals for extra time, Sarver says. The agency typically requests a 48-hour hold.
Miller says Buncombe County has also operated for many years without a 287(g) agreement, in which local agencies partner with ICE on immigration enforcement.
“Buncombe County has a low crime rate and a good quality of life,” Miller says. “The policy directive announced today is a continuation of that.”
Bryan Cox, ICE’s communication director for the southern region, says the agency puts detainers on people who have been arrested on local criminal charges and are suspected of being in the country illegally. The agency can take custody of the detainee once they are released from local custody.
“When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release serious criminal offenders onto the streets, it undermines ICE’s ability to protect public safety and carry out its mission,” Cox says. “Any local jurisdiction thinking that refusing to cooperate with ICE will result in a decrease in local immigration enforcement is mistaken.”
Cox says that when jurisdictions do not cooperate with the agency, it has “no choice” but to make more at-large arrests.
He says more street arrests mean that the agency could encounter more undocumented immigrants “that wouldn’t have been encountered had we been allowed to take custody of a criminal target within the confines of a jail.”
During the announcement, Miller acknowledged that the policy change could spark more arrests by ICE in Buncombe County. “I think it’s right for us to make a stand. I think it’s right for us to speak out now and in addition to that, we can’t live in fear,” he said. “We have to move forward.”
Coco Eva Solange, the co-director of Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción, rejects ICE’s characterization of the possible impact of Buncombe County’s policy change.
“Basically rhetoric like ICE saying they’re coming because of the changes is a perfect way for that strong relationship between sheriff’s offices and their communities to erode or have the potential to erode,” Solange says. “And we’re not going to let that happen.”
Miller has listened to community members about the changes they want to see at the sheriff’s department and detention center, says CIMA co-director Bruno Hinojosa Ruiz. “This is one of the many steps that is being taken,” he says. “I think there are more to come as far as where he wants to lead the sheriff’s department.”
In response to questions from media outlets last year, ICE reported that it made about 40 at-large arrests during the week of April 8, 2018, in North Carolina, with 15 of those arrests occurring in Western North Carolina.
In a press release issued on Feb. 13, CIMA said that men in ICE jackets had been seen detaining at least one person in Hendersonville.
Buncombe County Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, who attended the press conference Tuesday morning, says the policy change is a “very positive,” “important” step forward for the community.
She says last spring’s ICE arrests provoked “fear and terror” among members of the community.
“It kept people from going to the grocery store, it kept kids from going to school, it kept people from accessing basic healthcare needs,” Beach-Ferrara says, “and it certainly chills the relationship with the local law enforcement agency that should be there in times of need.”