Recent conversations surrounding federal immigration policies have caused fear amongst segments of the population, and debate at all levels of government. One of the most recent and serious legislative entries in the immigration debate is California State Senate Bill (SB) 54.
Local law enforcement has been repeatedly clear in spoken and written word — we have not and will not be involved in immigration enforcement in our communities. We believe that a strong relationship with our communities, built on trust, is essential.
Some people believe that once people are in our country, legally or illegally, they should be allowed to stay regardless of what crimes they commit. I disagree, I believe that when people are booked into jail for a criminal offense and they may be in the country unlawfully, they should be vetted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Criminal immigrants are not representative of the immigrant community as a whole; we cannot, however, ignore the fact that there are undocumented immigrants, as well as citizens, that commit crimes and represent a threat to the people of Ventura County.
Our local immigration policy has been the same for the past 20 years. Immigration officials come into our jail, then independently determine against whom they will pursue immigration processes. Sheriff’s Office staff makes no attempt to investigate the immigration status of any arrestee. Per California law, our practice is to notify those incarcerated immigrants when ICE desires to interview them and to ensure the individuals know they have the option of either consenting to or declining participation in an interview. For those arrestees who do not consent to be interviewed, ICE is not allowed to speak with them while they are in the custody of the Sheriff’s Office. Moreover, our policy — as supported by federal judicial rulings — is that no one should be unconstitutionally detained past the date that all local charges are resolved.
Advocates for SB 54 argue that the bill allows ICE to target those criminal immigrants posing the most serious threat to the public: anyone who is currently sentenced for a felony or misdemeanor and has either a current or prior serious or violent felony conviction. The bill ignores a wide spectrum of crimes, from driving under the influence to murder, sexual assault, child molestation and domestic violence to name a few. It prohibits ICE access to jail facilities. Criminal undocumented immigrants who are currently serving time in county jail for serious or violent crimes would simply be released back into our communities upon completion of their sentences.
Should any of these people become eligible for pretrial release, the restrictions sought by this bill would force me to release dangerous offenders back into our communities without any communication with immigration officials.
Misleadingly called the “California Values Act,” supporters of SB 54 argue that it will help build trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities. I am concerned that there is a real risk it will have the opposite effect. If federal immigration officials are barred from jail facilities, and local law enforcement is barred from communicating with them, it stands to reason that ICE would have little choice but to take its investigations into the communities. ICE raids in our neighborhoods increase the likelihood that federal agents will come into contact with undocumented persons who were not the target of their investigations. This, in essence, would create the fear and mistrust that SB 54 purports to prevent. Allowing ICE to vet those in jail for criminal offenses will help to specifically target the criminal immigrants we do not want returning to our streets.
Scare tactics have fueled misplaced concern about local law enforcement teaming with ICE to conduct raids and arrest individuals for immigration violations. Some have even gone as far as to say that local law enforcement will be surrounding schools and arresting mothers for immigration violations as they drop off their children. This type of rhetoric is absurd and only serves to heighten tensions unnecessarily and strain communication between local law enforcement and people in the community it serves.
It is important to understand that allowing ICE agents access to those booked in our jails has not resulted in mass deportations. Between September 2015 and September 2016, over 27,000 people were booked into our county jail by various law enforcement agencies. Of them, only 238 (less than 1 percent) were removed by immigration officials. Their charges ranged from homicide, rape, possession of weapons, to driving while under the influence and vandalism. Many of those removed had been previously deported under orders of a federal judge and had other past arrest charges. Our communities are better-served when those who are determined to commit crimes in our neighborhoods and are in our country illegally are properly vetted by immigration officials.
The issue of immigration and immigration reform is complex and there is no perfect solution. I have only written opinion pieces such as this a couple of times during my six years as your sheriff. However, I felt compelled on this very important topic to express my deeply held concerns regarding the public safety consequences that SB 54 will have on the lives of the residents of Ventura County and the state of California. My guiding light is public safety and I truly believe that SB 54 is bad public policy and is dangerous for everybody, including the undocumented persons it is designed to protect.
SB 54 has passed the state Senate and is currently in the Assembly. I encourage you to contact your Assembly representatives and urge them to allow immigration officials to work with local jails in keeping our communities safe. Their contact information is:
Monique Limon, 37th State Assembly District Capitol Office, 916-319-2037; District Offices 805-564-1649, 805-641-3700
Dante Acosta, 38th State Assembly District Capitol Office, 916-319-2038; District Office, 661-286-1565
Jacqui Irwin, 44th State Assembly District Capitol Office; 916-319-2044; District Offices 805-482-1904, 805-483-4488
Additional information regarding the Sheriff’s Office policies on immigration, an example of those in custody who would be released back into our communities, a list of crimes for ICE removal, ICE Rights sheet, can be found at the following link: