Echoing decisions made by local law enforcement agencies around the state and across the country, the Sheriff's Office in San Mateo County recently changed its policy with respect to cooperating with federal immigration agents.
Agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been routinely asking local authorities to temporarily detain arrested immigrants whom agents find of interest. As of May 23, immigrants eligible for release after being arrested will be released, despite ICE requests to detain them, unless there are "significant public safety concerns" about the person arrested, in which case the executive staff in the Sheriff's Office has to approve the detention.
Twenty-four other California counties have made similar policy changes, according to a list compiled by Jennie Pasquarella, an attorney with the Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. There is a state context: Effective Jan. 1, the Trust Act, authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2013, sets minimum standards for not cooperating with ICE.
The Trust Act recommends honoring ICE detention requests if the immigrant has a criminal record of being convicted of a serious or violent felony, or a felony punishable by imprisonment by the state, or a misdemeanor that can also be punished as a felony.
ICE did not respond to an interview request.
According to the ICE website, the Obama administration has set "clear and common-sense priorities for immigration enforcement focused on identifying and removing those aliens with criminal convictions."
ICE claims a total of 368,644 "removals" for the 2013 fiscal year, including 133,551 people apprehended away from the borders, 82 percent of whom had criminal records.
The new policy at the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office sets aside the "criminal record" standard and simplifies the matter to detaining immigrants who represent a "significant public safety concern," adding that these instances are expected to be the "rare exception."
ICE makes its detainment requests through its Secure Communities program, which was launched in 2008 and, by January 2013, had reached "full implementation," including all law enforcement jurisdictions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories, according to the ICE website.
The program takes advantage of a routine in which local law enforcement sends fingerprint records of every arrest to the FBI. The FBI has been forwarding these records to the Department of Homeland Security, where ICE uses them "to determine whether that person ... is here illegally or is otherwise removable," according to the ICE website.
When someone appears "to be removable," ICE has been requesting that local law enforcement detain the person in jail for as much as 48 hours, weekends excluded, to allow for an ICE interview, after which ICE agents will decide whether to seek the person's deportation, the agency's website says.
The detention requests are not governed by requirements for warrants or established standards of proof, such as reasonable suspicion or probable cause, according to the Trust Act.
Such detentions, the Act says, "harm community policing efforts because immigrant residents who are victims of or witnesses to crime, including domestic violence, are less likely to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement when any contact with law enforcement could result in deportation."