Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood wants to make it crystal clear he will work with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to deport immigrants in the country illegally - as long as he is able.
That’s why he will ask the Kern County Board of Supervisors, on May 2, to pass a resolution declaring Kern County is a non-sanctuary county.
How much of an impact would that actually have on county policy?
Next to none, said interim Kern County Counsel Mark Nations.
“A resolution in this instance would really just function as a position statement on an issue,” Nations said Thursday.
Currently, Senate Bill 54, which has been approved by the California state Senate and sent to the Assembly, would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from engaging in immigration enforcement, giving federal officials private information about individuals for immigration enforcement or holding anyone but violent felons for transfer to ICE – among other rules.
Nations said that, if that law passes, Youngblood will need to comply with it.
“That is going to cause a shift in the way the sheriff has tended to operate. He wants to be able to cooperate with his federal counterparts,” he said. “If the state says you can’t do that then he won’t. It doesn’t mean he has to be happy about it.”
While federal law trumps state law on immigration issues, there is nothing in federal law that requires local law enforcement agencies to help ICE do its job, Nations said.
So state law would control the situation and — non-sanctuary resolution or not — Youngblood has sworn an oath to uphold the laws of the State of California, he said.
Nations is right about the law, Youngblood said.
But the resolution is more than just a symbolic act, he said.
“This is a message to the feds. This is a message to the state. This is a message to the people who elected me in this county,” Youngblood said.
Currently, the U.S. Marshal’s Service pays for 100 beds at Lerdo Jail, he said. And, while Youngblood can’t currently detain people for ICE, the agency has space in Kern County Jail and access to Youngblood’s databases.
The agency can detain anyone it needs to through that partnership.
Senate Bill 54 would change that.
And Assembly Bill 1578 would prevent Youngblood from working with federal partners on any marijuana case, he said.
Youngblood said pro-immigrant groups aren’t going to like what happens if SB 54 passes.
“If SB 54 passes, ICE is still going to get the same people,” he said. “But since I can’t help them, they have to go into our communities to get them. They have to go into our courts. They have to go to churches.”
Hard-working immigrants who don’t break the law have nothing to fear, Youngblood said.
The only ones who should have fear are the ones who are here illegally and are committing crimes, he said.
Youngblood’s proposed resolution has caught the attention of major publications like the Los Angeles Times, which wrote a story about it, and the New York Times, which linked to The Californian's story in a newsletter.
And it is already drawing opposition.
Local immigration advocate Joey Williams of Faith in Kern said in a statement that his group will be lobbying Kern County supervisors not to pass the resolution when it comes before it next month.
“We have been organizing long-term to combat Sheriff Youngblood's attacks on immigrant families. We are moving our clergy and faith leaders to meet with each BOS to urge that they don't support a non-sanctuary stance,” Willliams wrote. “This is unnecessary polarization and division of our communities.”