Nine days after hundreds of Central American immigrants were tear-gassed by U.S. officials at the Mexico border, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson discussed the role his department plays in immigration enforcement during a county Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.
There, Parkinson heard from a group of immigrant allies calling for compassion.
Parkinson said the county Sheriff’s Office does not deport anyone, does not have authority over Immigration and Customs Enforcement, does not conduct immigration sweeps and does not ask anyone — including inmates — about their immigration status. Counties are now required by state law to hold such forums about ICE’s access to individuals each year.
Laws directing local law enforcement’s communication with immigration agencies have changed in recent years.
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The “sanctuary state” law, for instance, prohibits local agencies from holding people in custody for federal immigration detainees unless they’ve been convicted of a serious crime or are a registered sex offender.
Before that law went into effect in November 2017, San Luis Obispo County did directly provide information to ICE, Parkinson said.
He reported that in 2017 his office faxed a report on foreign-born inmates in custody at San Luis Obispo County Jail twice a day to federal authorities.
During that time, 67 ICE Holds were placed on inmates in County Jail, and the Sheriff’s Office released 87 inmates to ICE. Those were mostly Mexican men under 40 years old.
Over the past year, those numbers have dropped to zero in compliance with state law, Parkinson said. No ICE holds were placed on inmates and the Sheriff’s Office did not release any inmates to ICE, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office no longer faxes ICE release information, but it is available on the department’s public website, he said. In addition, anyone placed into custody has a fingerprint taken that is uploaded to a federal database.
That inmate release dates are placed on the public website was raised as one of many concerns and questions by a group of people who spoke in the forum, some of whom said they were with a group called Allies for Immigration Justice.
One group member told a story about a woman whose son who was deported despite being a participant in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He lived in the United States for 18 years, was in custody for an unspecified reason for three months and after his release, ICE was waiting for him. He was arrested and deported — a separation that hurt the family.
Others spoke about the trepidation their immigrant friends and neighbors have had about speaking to law enforcement because of a fear of deportation and a socialized fear of police inspired by what they experienced in their home countries.
Living in fear of minor interactions with law enforcement, immigrants haven’t spoken up when family members have been victimized by hate speech, hate crimes or domestic violence, one woman said.
“How about folks in fields subject to labor abuses? ... And what about people brought here in trafficking industries?” Anneka Scranton asked at Tuesday’s meeting.
“There are real fears for our immigrant population,” Scranton said, adding that the community needs to “build a wall between law enforcement and the abuses of our federal agencies.”
The conversation comes at a time when the political divide over the future of immigrants in the United States is widening, bolstered by anti-immigrant rhetoric by President Donald Trump and border actions under his administration.
While Trump’s name did not come up at Tuesday’s meeting, Supervisor Adam Hill made a reference to “some of what we’ve experienced in regards to comments and actions by leaders in other governments in our country. ... It’s quite tragic to encourage any human being to be treated as an ‘it’ or a ‘they,’ rather than ‘us’ or ‘we.’”
Parkinson said he does not provide federal agencies with information on individuals, and his concern is about “how do we build relations with communities,” including those that have distrust of law enforcement.
“Ultimately, I want victims to report, I want victims to come forward and I don’t want them living in fear. It just revictimizes them,” Parkinson said, noting that many of his deputies are first-generation U.S. citizens that understand what immigrants might be experiencing.
Parkinson said he would participate in a larger public forum in 2019 about the his office’s communication with ICE, as requested by members of the public.