Yet Another North Carolina Sheriff Restricts Cooperation with ICE

Buncombe County’s Quentin Miller is the state’s fifth new sheriff to say he will stop honoring ICE detainers since the 2018 elections

Daniel Nichanian

The 2018 elections for sheriff continue to make waves in North Carolina. Quentin Miller, the new sheriff of Buncombe County (home of Asheville), announced on Feb. 26 that his office will stop honoring ICE detainers. Detainers are warrantless requests by which ICE asks a local jail to continue detaining people beyond their scheduled release because of a suspected civil immigration violation, even if they have posted bail or have resolved their criminal charges. This gives the federal agency more time to pick up detained individuals.

“We do not make or enforce immigration laws; that is not part of our law enforcement duties,” said Miller, who described such cooperation with ICE as harmful to relations with county residents. “It is vital that members of our immigrant community can call the sheriff’s office without fear when they are in need of assistance from law enforcement.”

Miller is the fifth North Carolina sheriff elected in 2018 to announce an end to ICE detainers. The sheriffs of Durham County (Durham), Forsyth County (Winston-Salem), Mecklenburg County (Charlotte), and Wake County (Raleigh) have all announced this same step since taking office in December amid sustained organizing by immigrant rights’ activists in the state. Some of these sheriffs have also cut more formal modes of ICE cooperation, such as 287(g) contracts and detention agreements, which Buncombe already lacked. All five sheriffs are African American Democrats who won their first term in 2018.

The five counties that will newly reject ICE detainers are among North Carolina’s seven largest counties. The two remaining counties on that list of seven already had a policy of not abiding by ICE detainers.

  • “We don’t honor ICE detainer requests,” Cumberland County Public Information Officer Sean Swain told me on Tuesday. Swain added this policy was already in place under current sheriff Ennis Wright’s predecessor.
  • Similarly, Guilford County didn’t honor ICE detainers under the prior sheriff (Republican BJ Barnes), and newly elected Democrat Danny Rogers has maintained this policy. Jim Secor, the attorney of the sheriff’s office told Jordan Green of the Triad City Beat this month that detaining an individual absent an arrest warrant most likely violates the constitutional ban against “illegal seizure.” Secor also said the Guilford County sheriff’s office communicates with ICE throughout an individual’s detention period to help the federal agency take someone into custody.

This leaves Union County as North Carolina’s largest county with a sheriff whose stated policy is to abide by ICE’s requests. “We do honor Federal detainers that may not be accompanied by an additional criminal or judicial warrant,” Tony Underwood, the public information officer of the sheriff’s office, told me via email. The sheriff since 2002 is Republican Eddie Cathey.