Kern County supervisors refused Tuesday to support Sheriff Donny Youngblood’s proposal to declare Kern a "non-sanctuary" county.
They said it was unnecessary and divisive.
But they agreed to vote next week on a resolution to oppose California Senate Bill 54, the proposed state “sanctuary” law that prompted Youngblood to make the proposal.
Youngblood defended his idea during the time set aside for public comments.
It isn’t about deportation of hard-working, law-abiding immigrants in the country illegally, he said. It’s about deporting dangerous, violent criminals.
A host of opponents called his plan misguided, divisive and destructive to the safety of farmworkers and other immigrants in the country illegally.
Technically the “non-sanctuary” item wasn’t on supervisors' agenda Tuesday. Interim County Counsel Mark Nations ruled supervisors didn’t have the authority to dictate policy to the sheriff — which he said the resolution would do. So Youngblood brought the matter up during public comment.
After hours of discussion, Supervisor David Couch made a motion to put the sheriff’s “non-sanctuary” proposal on the May 9 agenda, saying he wanted to stand with Youngblood.
“It is not about race. It is not about racism. It is not about hate. It is not about nationality,” Couch said. “It’s about opposing two specific pieces of legislation.”
The four other board members refused to support Couch and his motion died for lack of a second.
Supervisor Leticia Perez said Youngblood’s idea was a partisan, political statement that was driving a wedge between this county and the state and among different segments of the Kern County community.
She said she has heard from a diverse range of community members including activists, business owners, conservatives and others who said Youngblood’s plan wasn’t right for Kern.
“I wholeheartedly disagree with the direction of this conversation,” Perez said, calling on the sheriff and county to “discontinue the ugliness of this debate.”
Supervisor Mick Gleason also opposed Youngblood’s plan, but he took a more strategic tack.
Nations, he said, explained that supervisors shouldn’t try to tell the sheriff his business. So if they can tell Youngblood, an independent elected county officer, how to run his department in this instance, then they would have the right to tell him how to run all of his business.
He rattled off a number of service cuts, including closure of the Ridgecrest Jail, that he’d like to force Youngblood to reverse. But that’s not the way the Sheriff’s Office should run, he said.
“What we would see would be a public safety program that was designed to be run by a competent, independent sheriff that would go downhill and become a political pawn,” Gleason said.
Gleason said he wants to cut right to the heart of the matter.
Senate Bill 54 would sever communication between the county and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in all but the most violent of cases, he said.
“What I would support today is a clear, articulated position on SB54,” Gleason said. “I am strongly opposed to the state saying we are a sanctuary state.”
Supervisors Mike Maggard and Zack Scrivner agreed.
Gleason made a motion to put a resolution of opposition to SB 54 on next Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors agenda. It passed with only Perez voting against the motion.
Youngblood said he would continue to push the “non-sanctuary” idea on his own, sending letters to the federal government, President Donald Trump, Gov. Jerry Brown and the attorneys general of California and the United States.
The debate over Youngblood’s proposal got heated at times.
Opponents said it would drive victims of crime who have immigrated to the country illegally into hiding, preventing them from getting justice.
“It sends a very strong message and creates a lot of fear in immigrant communities,” said labor icon Dolores Huerta. “We really have to think about the kinds of messages we send to our community.”
If Kern County wants to be a law enforcement county, she said, law enforcement needs to work to clean up the violence that officers visit on their own community.
Other speakers called for unity, saying everyone should be treated with equality and respect.
Youngblood said his current practice of allowing ICE to maintain an office in his jail and giving the federal agents access to his inmate databases makes the community more safe. Violent criminals are picked up by ICE agents before they make it back to the streets.
He listed off some of the crimes committed by 10 of the 28 people ICE detained in Kern County through this program in April.
They included repeat drunk-driving, felony assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of a controlled substance for sale.
Sheriff's deputies aren’t going out on raids to find immigrants in the country illegally, Youngblood said,
They’re only trying to ensure violent criminals don’t get back out on the street.
“If there are people who don’t believe these types of people should be deported, then we’re just going to have to disagree,” he said.
And he argued his policies don’t drive hardworking farm workers, oil field workers and other immigrants to hide out from him.
“They don’t run from us. They are not afraid to report crimes because they know we’re not ICE agents,” he said.
Lori Renee said that isn’t true. She has family and friends who teach, she said, and the teens in Lamont worry that their parents — selling flowers on street corners — will be picked up and deported.
Youngblood blamed his opponents for being the fear-mongers.
“They spread this fear and this rhetoric and that’s what is making people not cooperate with law enforcement,” he said.
He did acknowledge that the dramatic shift in immigration policy from the Obama to the Trump administration is highlighting many of those concerns.
But he said there is no way for the federal government to deport the estimated 11 to 12 million immigrants in the country illegally.
The focus has to be, he argued, getting rid of serious and violent criminals.
But Michael Turnipseed of the Kern County Taxpayers’ Association said there is a bigger issue here than Senate Bill 54 or Youngblood’s proposal.
He said his ancestors came to the United States as early as the 1700s. But he is still an immigrant. This is a country of immigrants, he said, that needs to figure out how to conduct immigration better.
“We’re all talking about the symptoms. The disease is a bad immigration policy,” he said.