President Donald Trump’s far-reaching executive order on immigration policies has prompted Santa Barbara activists to urge the Sheriff’s Office to halt cooperation with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). In fact, advocates with CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) have been quietly working on this issue for years, said director Hazel Davalos. “We’re fortunate that Sheriff Bill Brown is better than most, but in today’s national climate” and with the construction of the northern branch jail three miles from Santa Maria’s ICE facility, Davalos said, “we need a clear firewall between the Sheriff and ICE.”
Interviews with activists and Sheriff Brown shed light on the issue: ICE agents have an office in the County Jail, and they show up about three times a week. They have unsupervised access to the Sheriff’s computer databases as well as all fingerprint data. ICE agents will often interview foreign-born inmates to determine their immigration status.
Federal authorities sometimes request to hold certain inmates, but the California law known as the TRUST (Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools) Act prohibits the Sheriff’s Office from holding inmates past their local sentence. The sheriff, however, does notify ICE agents when inmates in question will be released. “We will cooperate with them,” Brown said. But Brown added he has made it clear to members of the Hispanic community that his deputies do not enforce immigration law in the field. “There has been a lot of emotion around this issue and a lot of false information,” Brown said. He said he personally has not been aware of any case in which a person was deported simply for entering the country illegally or for committing a minor infraction. “They typically have some other criminal activity or [are] repeatedly returning to the United States [after being deported].”
Though some activists first talked about lobbying the county supervisors, Davalos noted the sheriff — being an elected official — can implement policies “as he sees fit.”