Is the Sheriff-ICE Connection Too Cozy?

Brown Describes the Relationship While Critics Voice Their Concerns

Demonstrators gathered Tuesday outside the county administration building.

Paul Wellman

Demonstrators gathered Tuesday outside the county administration building.

More than a dozen community members and members from the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) gathered outside of the county government building, chanting, “ICE has got to go!” in anticipation of the last agenda item at this Tuesday’s County Board of Supervisors meeting. The board was holding its first community forum mandated by the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act, which went into effect January 1, 2017. Under the TRUTH Act, legislative bodies in California are required to hold at least one forum a year if local law enforcement allowed ICE access to any individuals in their custody in the previous year. In 2017, ICE requested release date information for 526 inmates in Santa Barbara County Jail and picked up 351 individuals from Sheriff’s Office custody.

“The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office does cooperate with ICE officials to the extent permitted by law,” Sheriff Bill Brown told the board. In 2017, cooperating with ICE took one of these five forms: (1) responding to an ICE hold, notification, or transfer request; (2) providing notification to ICE in advance of the public that an individual would be released at a certain date and time; (3) providing ICE non-publicly available information on release dates, home addresses, or work addresses; (4) allowing ICE to interview an individual in jail; (5) providing information on probation or parole check-ins.

As of January 1, 2018, ICE officials use the jail’s new records management system to search for an individual. Through the “Who Is in Custody” feature, anyone can search via first or last name and access the individuals release date. Community members are suspicious of the new records management system’s implementation date coinciding with the Values Act, which also came into effect January 1, 2018. The Values Act limits the types of crimes for which law enforcement can contact ICE.

People expressed concerns Tuesday over the “Who Is in Custody” feature. Lupita Rios described the feature as a “cruel act to undermine the Values Act.” Others provided testimony of family members who had been detained by ICE upon their release for low level crimes. CAUSE organizers argued that deportation isn’t necessary to enforce the law for crimes unrelated to crossing the border. “Undocumented people are no less human and no more criminal than someone of citizen status,” said CAUSE organizer Alejandra Melgoza. The concern over punishing undocumented persons twice or more harshly than their documented counterparts was echoed by many. “Within the justice system everyone should be treated the same,” said Rodriguez. “Serve time with law enforcement, rehabilitate, and come back to the community.”

Speakers also expressed concern over the breach of trust between law enforcement and the immigrant community. Santa Maria CAUSE Organizer Hazel Davalos asked the board to remember the 3,000-person protest in 2014 against the Santa Maria ICE facility. “It is so clear that the fear of ICE is real,” said Davalos. That fear can prevent members of the immigrant community from reporting crimes out of suspicion that law enforcement may turn them or their loved ones over to ICE. This is especially true in domestic-violence cases when a partner is undocumented. “Any collaboration or perceived collaboration with ICE is really a slap in the face to our community and a slap in the face to the TRUTH Act [and] the Values Act” said Jorge Gil. “Even the appearance of collaborating with ICE is not acceptable. We voted differently in this state.”