The North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled state judges don’t have the authority to release immigrants held by a county sheriff working on behalf of the U.S. government with documents directing them to be detained. The state Supreme Court said in a ruling Friday that Superior Court Judge Yvonne Mims Evans wrongly ordered the release of the defendants.

Then-Mecklenburg Sheriff Irwin Carmichael had entered a 287(g) agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to carry out immigration laws and detain immigrants that ICE agents say were subject to deportation. Carmichael declined to release Chaves and Lopez, even though Evans declared them to be unlawfully held, because they were subject to immigration-related arrest warrants and detainers. While the men ultimately were placed in ICE custody, the Supreme Court declared that ruling in the matter was still in the public interest.

Although Evans was allowed to examine whether she had authority to grant their requests, Ervin wrote for the seven justices, "an examination of the applications themselves should have led the trial court to summarily deny petitioners’ habeas corpus petitions."

Sheriffs in Alamance, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Henderson, Nash, Randolph and Rockingham counties, NC, participated in the 287(g) program as of May. Some departments previously withdrew from the program after a change in leadership. Carmichael successor Gary McFadden and Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker pulled out after their 2018 election victories.

Whether all North Carolina sheriffs should cooperate with ICE detainers became a big issue at the General Assembly in 2019. The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a bill requiring sheriffs to comply with requests by federal immigration agents to hold inmates they believe are in the country unlawfully. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, calling it unconstitutional and politically motivated. Several newly elected Democratic sheriffs, including Baker and McFadden, had halted their offices' cooperation with ICE.

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Updated: Tue, Jun 23rd 2020 @ 11:20am EDT