Sanctuary State Designation Doesn’t Change Much, Yet, With Local Law Enforcement

In early October, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the California Values Act (SB-54) – the “sanctuary state” bill fighting for immigrant rights, amidst confronting the presidential administration agenda. With the San Joaquin Valley, where an abundance of undocumented residents live, the bill changes little with interaction between local law enforcement and these residents.

Recently, in national news, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been fighting back against various cities that have declared themselves Sanctuary Cities.

According to NBC News – “Earlier this month [October], Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the four cities — New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and New Orleans — as well as Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, that they appeared to be in violation of a federal statute that requires jurisdictions to comply with federal immigration officials and help to deport suspected undocumented immigrants held in local jails.

The DOJ gave those cities an October 27 deadline to prove compliance, or lose a critical federal grant that supports law enforcement and prosecution, among other crime-fighting areas.”

As of October 31, no announced updates to the potential grant-loss had been given. It is possible that California law enforcement may face similar threats to funding when the bill goes into effect in January.

Other than that possibility, the sanctuary state status doesn’t affect the Visalia Police Department, said Chief Jason Salazar.

“We don’t participate in immigration raids,” Salazar said. “We don’t ask immigration status, when officers pull someone over, or even if someone is under arrest.”

With regard to grant funding, “that remains to be seen,” Salazar said. The department has received a couple of federal grants, which could be potentially affected in the future.

Shared Information Will See a More Narrow Scope

Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson said there could be new challenges within the bill. He agrees with Chief Salazar in that there has not been, and will not be, any intent by local law officials to ask immigration status of anyone. As a member and officer of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, Robinson said he knew of no law enforcement department within the state that does, certainly not within Kings County or the South Valley.

The Association had sent a letter to the members of the State Senate in early April, prior to the senate passing SB-54, sharing concerns with the original bill, as written.

“This bill creates a severe public safety problem by limiting, and in some cases eliminating, our ability to communicate with the federal government.

SB 54 could result in potentially dangerous offenders being released to our streets,” the letter stated.

“Upon arrest, any inmate to the jail system is fingerprinted,” Robinson said. “The prints are shared with the Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), have been and remain free to check the immigration status of any inmates,” he said.

The change comes with ICE holds and shared information. Currently, ICE has been allowed to contact the Kings County Jail and let officials know of any inmate they are interested in – the jail, in turn, has shared any information and informed ICE as to when that particular inmate may be released from jail, along with a reminder as that date approaches.

“With SB-54, some of that information will not be shared and those reminders will no longer be sent,” Robinson said. “ICE will still be able to check fingerprints of inmates and take custody of those individuals upon release, but it is up to ICE to keep track of the individuals. Of the 7,000-8,000 individuals booked into the Kings County Jail per year – ICE has requested further information on about 300 of them,” Robinson said.

As of January, 2018, the jail staff will only be allowed to share information, with ICE, on those with the most violent offenses.

SB-54 “will not stop ICE from coming into our communities,” Robinson said. And, it may bring them out even more, he added, when they are trying to find someone specifically.

“They will absolutely do this, and will vet any family members and/or friends associated with that person,” he said, “and we don’t want ICE broadening their net into our communities.”

Robinson also expressed concerns for federal grant funds possibly being withheld. The county is currently working with a three-year $660,000 grant for its gang task force.

“We would like it to be renewed,” he said.

Keeping Violent Offenders Out of Local Communities

The largest concern for Sheriff Robinson, and Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux, is that violent offenders – those convicted of murder, rape and abuse – could possibly be released back into the local communities.

And, that’s not just their opinions, Boudreaux said.

“I have met with some successful people in the community [who are undocumented] and they believe violent criminals should be deported,” he said.

Boudreaux said he had also met with the governor and the state attorney general to share his feelings on the matter. Tulare County hasn’t, nor does it intend to, round-up undocumented workers, he told them. Governor Brown understood law enforcement concerns with the bill, according to Boudreaux.

“It [the bill] doesn’t change a lot of what we do here in Tulare County,” he said. He concurred with the others, that local law enforcement has not and will ask immigration status of anyone.

It is his understanding, Boudreaux said, that the department will continue to speak with the DOJ regarding those violent offenders of concern to everyone, but not more minimal crimes.

The most important thing is “to protect the people who live here [legally or illegally],” Boudreaux said. “I can’t turn a blind eye to victims.”

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