The Kern County Sheriff’s Office’s practice of allowing immigration agents into non-public areas of the county jail has been criticized in a report analyzing law enforcement agencies statewide.
However, local officials say the process, which involves hundreds of individuals per year, increases safety.
The report, written by Asian Americans Advancing Justice along with the University of Oxford Centre for Criminology, claims that about 40 percent of law enforcement agencies in California are not compliant with Senate Bill 54. The law took effect in 2018 and was meant to limit the state’s involvement with U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol office.
The report said sheriff’s offices and police departments throughout the state should cease allowing immigration agents into non-public areas of jails as well as stop sharing information with state immigration agencies.
“Major legislative and oversight action needs to be taken to ensure that (law enforcement agencies) fully implement policies that comply with the intent of the law,” the report said.
But Chief Deputy Tyson Davis said Kern County’s policies are allowed under exceptions in the law, and the practice makes the transfer of detainees between agencies safer.
He said ICE becomes aware of people held in the Kern County Jail through a fingerprint database that is accessible by multiple law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
Each time a person is entered into the jail, their fingerprints are uploaded to the database, and if ICE sees a person it is interested in, it will tell the Sheriff’s Office it would like to be notified when that person is going to be released.
The Sheriff’s Office then checks to see if the person has been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors, which allow them to notify ICE on the day the person will be released.
Davis said ICE officers show up on the day of the release and wait until the person has been processed by the Sheriff’s Office. The change of custody then happens inside a part of the jail not accessible to the general public where inmates are released.
“Once that person is released on county charges, then they take them into custody Davis said, referring to ICE. “If they are going to arrest somebody, it’s safer to make the arrest inside the jail where we know the person doesn’t have any weapons.”
In 2017, ICE made 622 requests to be notified of the release of detainees housed from Kern County detention facilities and arrested 486, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Although the Sherriff’s Office can notify ICE of inmates convicted of a crime, the report says the practice should not continue.
“It is important to note that SB 54 merely establishes a minimum baseline of protections for immigrants, and that SB 54 allows local jurisdictions and (law enforcement agencies) to adopt more protections, including ending all ICE notifications and transfers,” the report said.
During a community forum held late last year by the Board of Supervisors, many local residents urged supervisors to end the sheriff’s ICE collaboration.
No action has been taken by the supervisors yet.
Sheriff Donny Youngblood was opposed to SB 54, saying that releasing inmates wanted by ICE to the community would lead to ICE making arrests in local neighborhoods, creating disruptive and possibly dangerous situations.
Davis said the Sheriff’s Office would continue to allow ICE into the jail to make arrests, adding that SB 54 made the job of law enforcement more difficult.
“Any law that limits our ability to communicate with other law enforcement agencies I think is challenging moving forward,” he said. “But at the end of the day, the state law is the state law.”