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Santa Barbara County Sheriff discusses collaboration with ICE during public forum

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department revealed it provided information about hundreds of undocumented immigrants in custody to federal agents in 2017.

During a public forum in Santa Maria on Tuesday afternoon, Sheriff Bill Brown discussed his agency’s shifting collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since the implementation of the California Truth Act in 2017.

“Everyone whose fingerprints are taken in Santa Barbara County jail goes to the federal government. ICE has access to it, and they have people that they are looking for,” Brown explained.

The Truth Act gives immigrants in California jails the right to know when ICE requests to interview them, and the right to say no. Before the law was enacted, many immigrants in custody were seldom notified that a detainer request had been placed upon them, which made it harder to fight deportation.

In 2017, more than 15,000 inmates were released from county jail. The Sheriff’s report showed ICE requested information about a small percentage of them.

“ICE requested to be notified of the release of 526 of [inmates], and they ultimately came and picked up 351 of them,” Brown said.

Brown said it’s unknown how many of the jail’s total population are undocumented; the department has stopped keeping track. In previous years, Brown said they made up 6% to 12%.

The Sheriff explained they share information about immigrants with serious crimes. In 2017, some of those included domestic violence, selling drugs, failing to register as a sex offender, lewd acts on a child, and assault with a deadly weapon.

“We have had some very significant crimes committed in our community by illegal aliens,” he said.

Brown added he believed most immigrants in the country, “be they documented or not, are good, hardworking people”, but said some posed a threat to the community.

He noted one individual in last year’s report had been arrested 52 times, while others also showed multiple arrests.

Community organizers rallied ahead of the meeting and spoke during public comment asking the Sheriff’s Department to cease its collaboration with ICE altogether.

“I actually work with a young woman, who her mother was afraid to speak up because she was a victim of crime and she was undocumented,” Abraham Melendrez, an organizer at CAUSE said.

Brown stated his agency doesn’t provide information about witnesses or victims of crime to immigration officers, adding victims can sometimes, in fact, qualify for a visa.

But immigrant rights advocates accused local law enforcement of “carrying out the work of immigration agents” and asked the Sheriff “to stop criminalizing our immigrant community”.

Another activist said “we’re not advocating for lawlessness,” but rather “just treatment for immigrants”.

Brown explained the Truth Act has deterred federal agents from going into the county jail, but it has led to more field operations.

“Then what this policy has resulted in, is ICE crawling all over town,” commented 4th District Supervisor, Peter Adam.

Adam shared his personal views on the matter, saying he supported immigrants who “come through the front door”, the legal way.

Sheriff Brown reiterated the statistics presented during Tuesday’s forum have changed after SB54, also known as the Sanctuary State law, came into effect in January 2018. The law further limits local law enforcement cooperation with federal agents.

San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties held similar forums on Tuesday.

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