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County Supervisors reject informing ICE when inmates are released

Santa Clara County officials weighed changing policy on suspected undocumented inmates, then reconsidered

Sticking with a longstanding policy, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 Tuesday to reject changing course and notifying federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the release of County Jail inmates suspected of being in the country illegally.

The unanimous decision comes after county executives, legal counsel and immigrant rights groups called any working relationship with ICE a bad idea that would erode trust with an already vulnerable community. The county would have to blindly trust immigration officials on claims that an inmate in county custody is in the country illegally, which is prone to errors and could subject the county to lawsuits.

"Our county has long been a progressive beacon on this issue and now is not the time to suddenly embrace an agency does that does not respect basic human rights and frequently gets citizenship details wrong, subjecting our county to liability," said Santa Clara County Public Defender Molly O'Neal.

The board voted in April to consider a policy for the county to provide ICE with the date and time of release of inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. The policy would be limited to those inmates who had been convicted of a serious or violent felony, amounting to an estimated 100 to 150 inmates each year. The county's current policy ignores these requests, rejecting 6,243 notification requests between November 2014 and March 2019.

The idea came as a direct response to the killing of 59-year-old Bambi Larson, a San Jose woman who was stabbed to death in her home. The suspect, Carlos Arevalo-Carranza, is in the U.S. illegally, and had 10 prior convictions in recent years, ICE officials told the media outlets shortly after the death.

District Attorney Jeff Rosen and local law enforcement agencies -- represented by Mountain View Police Chief Max Bosel -- supported the idea of the limited coordination with ICE, calling it an important public safety policy that would remove dangerous criminals from the community. Rosen released a statement before the meeting calling ICE notifications a "balanced approach" that weighs the concerns of the immigrant community against the risk of allowing undocumented residents convicted of serious or violent felonies to stay in the country.

Bosel, who mostly deferred to Rosen, argued that the coordinated transfer of serious and violent felons into ICE custody means immigration enforcement agents won't have to raid neighborhood communities in order to make arrests. He said the immigrant community is fearful of such raids, which can lead to "incidental contacts" with undocumented people who wouldn't otherwise be contacted by federal immigration authorities.

"Notifying ICE and providing ICE agents the ability to take custody of individuals in a secure jail would likely reduce the amount of ICE operations in local communities, thereby reducing the probability of these incidental contacts," Bosel wrote.

While at least three supervisors showed interest in notifying ICE of the release of inmates suspected of being in the country illegally, actually putting that policy into practice was seen as untenable. The county had no way of verifying whether federal immigration officials had accurate information on the inmates, and ICE is an agency known for "aggressive and unscrupulous enforcement tactics" that stoke fear and undermine community trust, according to county officials.

Supervisor Mike Wasserman, originally a proponent of ICE notifications, made clear from the outset at the June 4 meeting that he planned to reverse course. He said the county's inability to determine legal status of inmates is "unfortunate and disappointing," but is a reality that prevents him from supporting his own proposal.

"After much investigation and research our county counsel, law enforcement, DA, public defender and numerous immigrant rights-related organizations have proven that there is no practical and legal way of knowing if a person in our custody is truly undocumented," Wasserman said. "And for that reason I withdraw my suggestion of notifying ICE."

Because of California's state sanctuary immigration policy, SB 54, the county is prohibited from asking inmates about their immigration status. County Executive Jeff Smith said the inability to independently verify ICE's claims on the immigrant status of inmates is a major cause for concern, given that the agency has been wrong in over 3,000 cases in the last year.

"By operating without adequate information the county is putting itself at risk because it is relying completely on ICE information, which we know has mistakes in it," he said.

Smith said allowing notifications would also be tantamount to creating a racial profiling program, and that counties that do permit notifications on inmate releases are showing a clear bias against Latinos. In 2018, San Mateo County was asked for notifications on 735 inmates, 7% of whom were eventually picked up by ICE agents. Of those inmates picked up, all but two were of Latin-American descent, Smith said.

Wasserman's early announcement changed the tenor of the packed crowd of attendees at the June 4 meeting, with close to 160 speakers mostly supporting Wasserman in his rejection of ICE notifications. Most speakers rapidly approached the dais and thanked the board for its decision not to work with ICE, even if the decision was reached due to practical limitations rather than a moral stance against a federal crackdown on illegal immigration.

Board President Joe Simitian, who represents North County, said he agreed that the county should not be working hand in glove with an agency he would describe as institutionally racist, and that he would never advocate for cooperation with ICE when inmates are facing traffic violations, misdemeanors or even the bulk of chargeable felonies in California. But for those convicted of serious and violent felonies and in county custody, he said it does make sense to "step up and engage in some measure of cooperation with immigration officials."

Despite his dissent, Simitian said he voted in the majority in order to make it a unanimous vote not to turn over any inmates to federal immigration officials without a judicial arrest warrant.

"I think there's some value in putting this issue to rest in a 5-0 vote today," he said.

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Comments

39 people like this
Posted by SMH
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 5, 2019 at 4:24 pm

“the county is prohibited from asking inmates about their immigration status.”. Has the state of California gone completely crazy?? They’ve already been convicted of a crime and we can’t request proof of legal residency?

“allowing notifications would also be tantamount to creating a racial profiling program, and that counties that do permit notifications on inmate releases are showing a clear bias against Latinos. In 2018, San Mateo County was asked for notifications on 735 inmates, 7% of whom were eventually picked up by ICE agents. Of those inmates picked up, all but two were of Latin-American descent, Smith said.”
Ummm... wouldn’t that be because almost all of the illegal immigrants are of Latino descent?

“an agency he would describe as institutionally racist”. It’s racist to oppose illegal immigration? Because if they were a different color we would be okay with them entering the country illegally?

“Joe Simitian... said that he would never advocate for cooperation with ICE when inmates are facing traffic violations, misdemeanors or even the bulk of chargeable felonies in California.”
And that is because we welcome (with open arms) even those that commit the bulk of chargeable felonies in California?

SMH. I repeat - has the state of California gone completely crazy?


23 people like this
Posted by ShorelineWestDude
a resident of Shoreline West
on Jun 5, 2019 at 5:24 pm

#SMH
Is spot on.
I would add: Has the Co of Santa Clara also gone completely insane ?
~ Shoreline West Dude


24 people like this
Posted by Diablo
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 6, 2019 at 9:15 am

as a lifelong liberal Democrat, the city, the state, and the Democratic party are causing me to re-examine my reflexive party loyalty, as they shift ever-leftward. How can our local institutions decide not to cooperate with a federal institution that is charged with enforcing federal laws. Is it illegal for these undocumented immigrants to be here? Yes, or no? If it is illegal, then enforce the laws, or change them.

Reform our immigration policy. But until we do, enforce the law. I personally want the status of someone convicted of a crime to be available to all law enforcement agencies all the time.


13 people like this
Posted by Cray cray
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jun 6, 2019 at 10:39 am

Why are you so surprised? This is your elected liberal party, what do you expect?

People need to wake up and look at what is happening to this state. Extreme and misguided liberal policies/ideologies are crushing us. I was a block west of Union Square yesterday, disgusting. SF is a cesspool but the City stands aside and let’s people shoot up in broad daylight, defecate on the streets, live in cardboard. Now they’re talking about typhoid and other third world issues. This is insane. Enough already.

Stop electing these liberals, take our State back!


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