Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden struck back Monday at critics — now including Vice President Mike Pence — of his policy of not honoring federal requests to detain immigrants who are charged with crimes while in the country without legal authorization.
McFadden promised as he campaigned last year to end his department’s voluntary cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including honoring detainer requests. He says detainers may be unconstitutional and breed distrust among the county’s immigrant communities.
Congressional candidate Dan Bishop, a Charlotte Republican running in the 9th district, has called on McFadden to resign over “reckless policies” that he said have led to the release of immigrants charged with violent crimes.
Pence, campaigning with Bishop at Wingate University ahead of Tuesday’s 9th district special election, alluded to the case of Oscar Pacheco Leonardo, a Honduran who was arrested in June in Charlotte on charges of first-degree rape and indecent liberties with a minor but released two days later.
“Instead of being deported, these criminals are being released here in North Carolina,” Pence said.
McFadden called an afternoon press conference to complain of being inaccurately portrayed in political “propaganda” as releasing potentially violent criminal suspects. Magistrates and judges, not sheriffs and deputies, set bonds and other terms of a release from jail.
“Since I have taken office, we have heard the word ‘immigration’ over and over and over again,” he said. “It’s now getting national attention, where politicians believe that they can take my stance and my name and use it any way they want to try to fulfill their office or win an office.”
McFadden said Pacheco had been arrested by federal agents on the Mexican border in 2016 but released wearing an electronic tracking device. McFadden said his department was not notified by ICE that Pacheco had removed the device in Mecklenburg County, or that he had previously been deported.
“If ICE believed this young man was that dangerous, why wait three years to notify any law enforcement agency that he’s in your city?” McFadden said. “You have to think if they had charged him and put a warrant on him when he cut off his ankle (tracking) bracelet three years ago, would he have been arrested?”
He questioned why, following Pacheco’s 2019 arrest, ICE had issued a detainer that it knew the sheriff’s department would not honor. ICE later re-arrested Pacheco.
Sheriffs in the urban counties of Wake, Durham, Buncombe and Forsyth have also stopped honoring detainer requests.
ICE spokesperson Lindsay Williams said the agency could not immediately respond Monday because of privacy laws. Agency officials have also accused McFadden of creating public safety threats by allowing the release of immigrants who are living here illegally after being charged with crimes.
Sean Gallagher, the ICE field office director for the Carolinas, said last month that, since February, at least 23 immigrants who were in the U.S. illegally had been released from Mecklenburg County custody after being charged with serious criminal charges.
Among publicized cases were those of Pacheco and Luis Pineda Ancheta, a Honduran who had been twice arrested, once following a nine-hour standoff with police in May, but released from Mecklenburg County’s jail.
Observer news partner WBTV reported Monday that, since last October, 489 immigrants without authorization to be in the country have been released from North Carolina jails despite ICE detainer requests.
Gov. Roy Cooper last month vetoed a bill that would require sheriffs to cooperate with ICE or face possible removal from office. Cooper called the bill unconstitutional, saying current law lets the state jail dangerous criminals regardless of immigration status.