Will Congress settle feud between ICE and North Carolina cities?

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina) argues cities like Charlotte – with sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants – have blood on their hands. Wednesday, Tillis enlisted the state’s top federal prosecutor to make the case to Congress that victims ought to be able to hold local elected officials responsible.

Congress puts crime, custody, and Charlotte under the spotlight, as it debates immigration and public safety (Source: Gray DC).

Hand to God as he swore to tell the truth and before the eyes of the nation, North Carolina’s U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray said Mecklenburg County continues to make potentially tragic mistakes. “I’ve seen how these policies destroy the lives of innocent victims and their families,” he told a smattering of Senators in a committee hearing.

When an undocumented immigrant is accused or convicted of a local or state crime, they’re released once they make their way through the normal justice system. Immigration and Customs Enforcement can ask local authorities to hold the immigrant for an extra 48 hours in case they want to pick them up.

But, some areas make a habit or even policy of saying 'no'. Mecklenburg county's sheriff argues they can’t legally hold someone without an arrest warrant, and that they leave questions of detention to judges.

"All I know is we are putting a violent person out on the street," Murray said when asked about the sheriff's stance, "and there was another tool in the tool box that could have prevented it."

Sen. Tillis described sanctuary policies as reckless, and said they've come with fatal consequences as he led Tuesday's hearing.

Tillis' partial solution: he wants Congress to pass his bill, the "Justice for Victims of Sanctuary Cities Act of 2019." Under the proposal, if an immigrant ICE requested to hold commits a violent crime after their release, victims would have the right to sue the local government.

Tillis added that Congress needs to crackdown on sanctuary city policies because they essentially welcome the underworld to town. "Criminals are evil people," he said, "but they’re smart people, and they’re going to abuse our laws."

ICE data obtained by WBTV show law enforcement agencies in North Carolina said ‘no’ to nearly 500 ICE requests to hold prisoners between last October and mid-August

Randy Capps with the Migration Policy Institute says that number shouldn’t scare the public. "Somebody, a judge, has already determined they’re not a threat to public safety," he said of undocumented immigrants released from custody.

ICE can ask for holds even if someone hasn’t been convicted, and for as little as a traffic offense or disturbing the peace. It’s unclear from the data what percentage of those they ask to hold committed serious crimes.

We asked Capps what he makes of the cases where a released offender the federal government wanted to hold does commit a violent crime. "There are always a few horrendous examples including two recently in Mecklenburg County," he said, "but it’s kind of prejudicial to view a whole group based on one or two people."

Every person we spoke with for this story told us the country needs a dramatic re-writing of its immigration laws and policies - for security and fairness. But, none voiced hope that could be accomplished in the nation’s current political environment.

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