Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood will weigh in on the immigration debate raging over “sanctuary cities” early next month when he asks the Kern County Board of Supervisors to declare Kern a “non-sanctuary county.”
At the core of the issue is whether cities and counties should allow their law enforcement agencies to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials of the impending release of immigrants in the country illegally from jail and hold those individuals until they can be picked up by ICE.
“I am asking for a resolution that we are not a sanctuary county but a law and order county,” Youngblood said Wednesday. “The resolution would alert the state and the federal government that Kern County intends to follow the law.”
The move comes as a number of California cities have named themselves “sanctuary cities” and vowed not to assist the federal government in deportations.
The Trump administration has issued an executive order striping sanctuary cities of federal grant money and lawyers from the City of San Francisco and the County of Santa Clara have sued to stop that executive order.
The California state Senate has passed Senate Bill 54, which would prevent law enforcement officers from collaborating with ICE to detain arrestees for all but the most violent felony crimes.
Here in Kern County, where deep blue California turns red, immigration has long been a complicated, emotional issue.
According to U.S. Census estimates from the American Community Survey, Kern County’s population is now majority Latino.
Youngblood said his proposal is designed to make Kern County’s position on the issue clear.
“No one knows what ‘sanctuary” means. I just know I don’t want to be one,” Youngblood said.
He said the issue is expected to come before the Kern County Board of Supervisors on May 2.
Supervisor Mick Gleason said he hasn’t decided how he will go on the issue.
“I don’t have a firm opinion,” he said. “I sincerely appreciate the gesture (Youngblood’s) making, that he’s trying to articulate clearly how he is going about enforcing federal law.”
Gleason said he needs to understand the issue better and hear from county officials what the implications of the idea will be before he makes up his mind.
But he’s not an opponent.
“I like the idea. I certainly would not appreciate being a sanctuary city, so I’m already halfway there,” Gleason said.
Supervisor Leticia Perez sounded like a no vote in a statement.
"Over the past few months, I, alongside many constituents, friends and family have lived the heartache and overwhelming fear of increasingly alienation," she said. "While this county has a duty to consider all of the implications at hand, I have to ask my colleagues if targeting our neighbors, friends, families and innocent children is worth what is being asked of us. Political rhetoric of hate and division is not new to this county or country but it doesn't have to define our future. I ask my colleagues to act as Americans, in unity and for the good of this great country."
News of Youngblood’s proposal prompted swift opposition from social justice groups.
Jennie Pasquarella, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, called Youngblood’s proposal “extremely ill-advised” for a county that has so many immigrant residents.
“We had the situation in Kern County before people were being deported when they came to the courthouse to get married or pay a parking ticket,” she said.
Pasquarella wondered if Youngblood is hoping to create an environment where the immigrant community is afraid to report crimes and engage with law enforcement agencies.
A sanctuary community isn’t going to stop ICE from going about its everyday activities, she said, but it does let the immigrant community know that it can report crime, connect with government agencies and go into public buildings without being afraid of deportation.
Eriberto Fernandez, civic engagement and policy coordinator with the UFW Foundation, said Youngblood’s approach isn’t helping to build a healthier community.
“His actions run counter-productive to what most in California are working hard to defend: hardworking immigrant communities,” Fernandez said. “Sheriff Youngblood is buying into the harmful rhetoric that the Trump administration is perpetuating – that immigrants are criminals.”
Studies, including one by the Cato Institute, show immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than other residents, he said. Families who haven’t committed crimes are already being deported.
“Immigrants, especially farmworkers, are the backbone of our local and state economy,” Fernandez said. “Kern County would not exist were it not for the hard sacrifices of immigrants made in all industrial sectors, especially agriculture.”