Power Through The Primary: Charlotte Voters Reject Anti-Immigrant Sheriff Carmichael

By Andrew Soboeiro

Ever since Trump took office, all who care about immigrant rights have been eager to vote. And last week, voters in Charlotte got a chance to do just this. Sheriff Irwin Carmichael, a Democrat who nonetheless supports deportation efforts, lost his primary by a wide margin to Gary McFadden. McFadden has pledged to end Mecklenburg County’s participation in a program to identify and detain undocumented immigrants. Considering that the Democratic nominee for sheriff will have no real challengers in November, this is an enormous victory for immigrant rights.

The Election At a Glance

On May 8, North Carolina held primary elections for most local, state, and Federal offices. Among these was the Democratic Primary for Mecklenburg County Sheriff. The current officeholder, Democrat Irwin Carmichael, has been under fire for his support of Section 287(g). This initiative allows the Federal government to share its immigration enforcement authority with participating police departments. Since the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department opted into this program in 2006, local officers have assessed the immigration status of everyone they arrest. If they believe someone to be undocumented, they detain them and contact Federal officials. Charlotte has deported hundreds of people a year since it began participating in this program.

While many of Charlotte’s elected officials oppose 287(g), only the Mecklenburg County Sheriff has the authority to end it. And despite the fact that he is a Democrat, Carmichael has refused to do so. Instead, he has vigorously defended this program, arguing that it protects Charlotte against dangerous fugitives who would otherwise be able to leave the country.

Many Charlotte residents were not convinced by Carmichael’s argument. One of them, a retired homicide detective named Garry McFadden, claimed that 287(g) actually makes Charlotteans less safe, as it dissuades immigrants from testifying to the police when they witness a crime. McFadden challenged Carmichael in the Democratic Primary and won a resounding victory, receiving 52 percent of the vote. Another candidate, City of Charlotte Human Resources Manager Antoine Ensley, came in second with 27 percent; Carmichael came in third, receiving only a fifth of all votes cast.

Inferring the Impact

What makes these results so significant is that there are no Republican or independent candidates running for Mecklenburg County Sheriff this year. As a result, McFadden is virtually guaranteed to take office, at which point he will be free to remove Charlotte from 287(g). The sheriff-elect has a number of other reforms in store as well, including plans to eliminate solitary confinement, restore in-person jail visits, and make the police department more transparent. If he can institute them successfully, these initiatives have the potential to make local law enforcement far more equitable and humane for immigrants and citizens alike.

Besides the direct impact of having McFadden as sheriff, this election is notable for showing the power of Charlotte’s Latino community. The sheriff-elect was able to win by such a wide margin in part because Hispanic and Latino voters turned out in large numbers to support him. Latinos represent 13 percent of the population of Mecklenburg County and 9 percent of all North Carolinians. If they continue to turn out in such numbers, these voters could transform North Carolina politics for the long haul.

Vigoda Law Firm pays close attention to elections and political decisions at every level, especially as they relate to immigration. For more information or legal support, visit our website today or call 919-307-7817.