Last Monday, North Carolina’s newly-elected sheriffs were sworn into office. A key issue in several of the campaigns was whether the candidates would or would not continue to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. Incoming Sheriff Garry McFadden announced that he will be ending Mecklenburg County’s participation in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “287(g) program.” Incoming Sheriff Gerald Baker in Wake County likewise pledged to end his office’s participation in the 287(g) program, and incoming Sheriff Clarence Birkhead in Durham County announced that his office would no longer honor any “detainer requests” from ICE.
Coincidentally, on the same day that those elections were being held, the Court of Appeals decided Chavez v. Carmichael, __ N.C. App. __ (Nov. 6, 2018), which analyzed whether a defendant can challenge immigration detainers in state court on habeas corpus grounds. In addition to answering that central question, the Chavez decision also helps to clarify the sometimes-overlooked distinction between the 287(g) program as a whole and ICE detainers in particular, and it points out an important statutory limitation on the extent to which custodial law enforcement agencies may “decline to investigate” the immigration or residency status of a person in custody.