Sheriff’s office won’t hold ICE suspects without warrant

Quentin Miller at press conference
STAFFING UP: Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller, shown here at a February 2019 press conference, looks to increase the staff of the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office by 10 employees in fiscal year 2020. Photo by David Floyd

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.”


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About David Floyd
David Floyd was a reporter for the Mountain Xpress. He previously worked as a general-assignment reporter for the Johnson City Press.

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40 thoughts on “Sheriff’s office won’t hold ICE suspects without warrant

  1. Stan Hawkins

    To Buncombe County Sheriff / County Government,

    If you want to gamble, then take a “self-funded” trip to Las Vegas. Putting citizens, law enforcement officers, and non-citizens at greater risk to satisfy your palate for political correctness is foolish. Putting tax payers at risk with foolhardy actions that have the potential to lead to county lawsuits lacks fiduciary responsibility. Have we not had enough of treating citizens and taxpayers as your chattel?

    If “probable cause” is good enough for Buncombe Sheriff; why is “probable cause” not good enough for Immigration Customs Enforcement?

    • Lulz

      His “law enforcement” regime is meaningless. He himself is now a criminal. Any and all actions by him should be seen as nothing more than illegal. You can’t pick and choose which laws to enforce. Nor can you basically allow illegals free passes and a hands off policy while expecting others to obey the law. As I’ve said before, government now is a criminal enterprise. Those within in should be viewed as nothing more than mobsters or cartel members.

        • Lulz

          LOL because those laws are unconstitutional. Just because the Supreme Court won’t tackle them means squat. After all they held up the conviction of a man for a sawed off shotgun under the premise it had no viable military use. So which is it? Does the 2nd guarantee military weapons or hunting rifles? Because Court rulings are all over the place. Being here illegallly is not a right.

          • Phillip C Williams

            Bravo for County level Law Enforcement who will not enforce unconstitutional laws. Illegal entry into the US is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

    • luther blissett

      “Putting citizens, law enforcement officers, and non-citizens at greater risk”

      [citation needed]

      ‘why is “probable cause” not good enough for Immigration Customs Enforcement?

      You’ll have to ask ICE why it expects detainers — which do not require probable cause and thus raise Fourth Amendment issues — to be treated as if they are warrants.

        • luther blissett

          “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

          Add it to the list.

        • Phillip C Williams

          Somehow I get the idea that Sheriff Miller might not have as many qualms about enforcing a “red flag” law , should it come to that in NC….if the State just redefines “probable cause” and what constitutes “lawful” search and seizure, and if you know a gun owner who you have a problem with, call up and tell ’em he’s a danger to himself and others. At best, he’ll get his firearms impounded for awhile – at worst, he will get killed if he tries to defend his property.

          Of course, it might not work so well for you if the neighbor’s kid sets of a string of firecrackers near your property and Nervous Nellie Next Door calls in a report of automatic weapons fire – then some folks are totally cool with the police coming and searching everyone’s house from rafters to root cellar to find those dangerous, illegal weapons. Kind of might stop being so cool when they find your meth lab or your pot growing on the window ledge or your porn stash in the process…..

    • Richard B.

      Amen. Was going to respond in the same tone, but Stan has stated it well.

      Must add that it is difficult for any reasonable person to comprehend why a law enforcement
      official at any level of government would oppose detaining “people who have been arrested on local criminal charges and are suspected of being in the country illegally”, as defined by ICE.
      Anybody help me out here?

      • luther blissett

        What’s confusing about “a detainer request is not a valid warrant”?

        • Richard B.

          I think that you know as well as I that law enforcement from one jurisdiction help another when criminal elements are involved.
          The detainer request not being a valid warrant is a bull crap way of being a good liberal, protecting the criminal elements among us because they are NOT citizens. Makes a lot of sense, right?

          • luther blissett

            If you’ve got examples to share of people being kept in county jail on the say-so of a cop from another jurisdiction, now’s the time to do so. What’s so hard about “get a warrant”?

  2. Jim

    “Miller has listened to community members about the changes they want to see at the sheriff’s department and detention center”. I was at the candidate forum in a black church where white people were not allowed to ask any questions directed to the candidates. Isn’t that the same “racism” that “progressives” are supposedly against?

    • Lulz

      Just wait til they have voting rights. That’s the endgame here. Leftist can’t run on policy because in all reality the country can’t pay for it. They’ll use illegals to gain permanent power and nationalize the economy. And that can’t happen if you have a large population that’s opposed to it. In the end the country becomes nothing more than a pseudo communist ran hellhole. These leftist goons aren’t your countrymen. They’re psychopathic loons that’ll look the other way as illegals kill citizens because a piece of crap like Miller allowed then to go free after their 2nd DUI. Simply to gain votes of people that came here illegally yet their votes will somehow be legal.

    • Richard B.

      Not only that, it is endemic of the hypocrisy that is strangling the Democrats and Liberals in the media, in politics, and in everyday discourse.

  3. cecil bothwell

    I invested a lot of time in my first four years on City Council pressing for this kind of policy. I did manage to push through a Civil Liberties Resolution, but that ended up being more of a “feel good” vote than a meaningful policy change. As I learned during that effort, the National Association of Chiefs of Police is solidly opposed to enlisting local law enforcement in immigration issues. Their studies indicate that when immigrant communities trust local police the whole municipality is safer. When immigrants fear local cops who work with ICE they don’t report crimes, so criminal activity that could be stopped simply spreads.

    • Lulz

      LOL I hear rigged phone polls are also used to push agendas lulz. Same as your fake stats LOL. Funny how for years LIEberals like to tell us about the 11 million illegals here. But the reality is that there are at least 30 plus million. Pushing down wages and getting handouts. All the while actual citizens get to die.

    • Stan Hawkins

      This comment is sort of like (but not) listening to those “drug commercials on TV” – you know the ones that have people smiling because of what the remedy can do for you. Then the commercial transitions to all the ways this drug can kill you advising you to proceed with caution, consult your MD, and only use as directed with another reminder of how this remedy can do harm. Alas, the commercial then returns to every one smiling, having a backyard barbecue, catching fish, and hugging your loved ones as you are thinking, “I wonder how much this will cost?”

      The citizens of Buncombe County, taxpayers, and voters eventually will see through this “slight of hand – shell game” for the high stakes gamble it really is. Who will be smiling in the end? The answer is we don’t know.

      • luther blissett

        “for the high stakes gamble it really is”

        The sheriffs of Wake, Durham, Mecklenburg, Forsyth, Orange and other counties believe they face a greater risk from detaining people on the basis of something that’s not a warrant.

        • Stan Hawkins

          The fact is, we do not know what the outcome of this decision will be.

          But, just on the mantle of common sense it seems logical that when law enforcement picks and chooses to ignore or follow up on reasonable cause or suspicion, for any purpose, is negligent to the duty of their oath to protect and defend the citizens of Buncombe County.

          The citizens of Buncombe County may have a just cause to petition for a recall election of our newly elected sheriff and seek damages that may occur from this decision.

          • luther blissett

            “The fact is, we do not know what the outcome of this decision will be.”

            The fact is, there are a bunch of Fourth Amendment judgements — going back to the Obama years! — that say ICE detainers are non-binding and that local law enforcement assumes liability by honoring them. (Since there’s a circuit split, it’ll go up to the Supreme Court.)

            You’re already fudging the terminology with “reasonable cause.” By your “mantle common sense”, the word of a cop is sufficient to hold someone in jail: no warrant, no judge. Maybe that’s how you want things to be.

    • Richard B.

      But Mr. Bothwell, if illegal immigrants (which is who you are referring to), then report criminal activity of other illegal immigrants (which is what we’re talking about that the Sheriff does not want to do), then how do we stop the spread of criminal activity by the illegal immigrants if the Sheriff’s Department refuses to arrest them and allow ICE to do their job in deporting them? Aren’t we back where we started?

      • Stan Hawkins

        I was thinking the same thing; sort of like “kicking the can down the road” hoping it does not become a blight on our fair land. Well said.

        I was also thinking how would we best deter the illegal population while encouraging legal population; as opposed to how best to attract more illegal poplulation? I think our sherrif has answered that question cloaked in some mumbo jumbo about citizens or non-citizens being reluctant to report criminal activity. Well, if our County Fathers lead the way in sweeping this under the rug, how are we to expect county citizens or non-citizens to act differently?

        Sounds like a “status quo” at best, or “worse off” possibility. Only government bets on those odds.

        • luther blissett

          “I was also thinking how would we best deter the illegal population while encouraging legal population; as opposed to how best to attract more illegal poplulation?”

          If somebody is speaking Spanish, do you feel in your gut as if that person might be an “illegal”?
          If somebody is speaking Arabic, do you feel in your gut as if that person might be an “illegal”?
          If somebody is speaking Russian, do you feel in your gut as if that person might be an “illegal”?
          If somebody is speaking English in a non-American accent — there are plenty of those around Asheville — do you feel in your gut as if that person might be an “illegal”?

          Do you have a keen sense of how many people in the Asheville-Buncombe area are a) illegal immigrants; b) legal non-citizen residents; c) naturalized citizens who speak their native language to friends and family? If so, please quantify a), b) and c).

          • Stan Hawkins

            The language spoken is irrelevant to the topic.

            The issue remains maintaining a lawful society, and how best to promote and attract a “legal population.” If law enforcement officials publicly say that they will not cooperate with Federal and State Law Enforcement on any issue of law, how does that set the example for any members of the community to trust and cooperate with law enforcement?

            If we are only concerned with maintaining trust from unlawful residents, then we have dereliction of duty on the oath of office. If Buncombe County wants to secede from the Union, then lets have that debate.

  4. Enlightened Enigma

    WHY did he need to stage such a big show for this? No reason other than self puffery. His agenda is troubling.

  5. C-Law

    The virtue-signaling is strong with this one, ha ha!

    But on a more fun note…seriously check out the woman in glasses on the right side of the picture. This some fodder for good meme material! Let’s have a little meme caption contest with this!

  6. Dale nelson

    As long as this and. All my ackley will never step foot in ashville

  7. Roy

    A vote for Miller turned out to be a vote for crime and open borders. We can all feel unsafe now in our new sanctuary city for job robbing and social service consuming illegals the Democrats want to boost their voting numbers Thank you virtue signaling sheriff Miller for being the tool of far left propaganda in our once safe county.

    • Jim

      Thankfully Buncombe concealed carry permit holders will do the job PC Sheriff’s Deputies won’t do, stop criminals.

      • luther blissett

        Uh huh. You sound exactly like the kind of person who ought to be trusted with a concealed firearm.

        • Stan Hawkins

          For those opposed to the 2nd amendment, or who at least are proponents of gun control legislation; do you think the actions of Buncombe County Sherrif as to cooperation with ICE will lead to more or less gun ownership? If not, why? If so, why would you want that?

  8. Peter Robbins

    Those unhappy with the sheriff’s policy need to explain two things: (a) why they think detention requests issued by an administrative agency without judicial approval satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment; and (b) why they are so confident in their position that they would expose the sheriff’s office to potential legal liability if they are wrong. I look forward to their responses.

    • Roy

      judicial approval should not be required for the detainment and investigation of illegals because they are by definition breaking Federal Law by being here illegally. Requiring additional legal processes only prevents illegals from being apprehended, investigated and detained. Imposing it would only encourage further evasion and obfuscation by those in this country giving cover and refuge for whatever reason including exploitation up to and including child trafficking and abuse. Concerning potential legal liability, it is a peace officer’s job to know his job and if one can’t perform his police duty with due tact and due dilligence, that officer needs to be removed from his or her job.

      • Peter Robbins

        The Fourth Amendment protects undocumented immigrants in Buncombe County whether you think it “should” or not, just as the First Amendment protects self-appointed “experts” whether I think it should or not. In our country, suspected wrongdoers have constitutional rights. And that’s not surprising, given that the men who wrote the Bill of Rights knew firsthand what it was like to be lawbreakers on the run from the king’s law.

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