Frank Rodriguez with CAUSE (left) and Sheriff Bill Brown discuss Senate Bill 54 at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara town hall meeting.

Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara County Jail ranked 25th in the nation in hold requests filed by immigration authorities, according to a report recently released by a nonprofit, TRAC (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse), affiliated with Syracuse University.

Notably, Santa Barbara County Jail finished ahead of the county jails in Ventura and San Diego counties. Those counties have two and eight times the population of Santa Barbara County, respectively.

ICE “detainers” prepared for Santa Barbara County Jail in March 2017 quadrupled from the same one-month time period in 2014, according to the report. The number jumped from 21 to 86.

Currently, ICE “detainers” function as requests for certain foreign-born inmates who will be released from county jails. A federal judge found the practice of holding inmates longer than their local sentences was illegal.

Neither an ICE spokesperson nor Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown could confirm TRAC’s data. The numbers that are available complicate the picture further. According to internal records, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office shows fewer ICE requests than TRAC’s data. In March 2017, the Sheriff’s Office said it received only 31 requests from ICE, according to the department.

Unitarian Society's SB 54 town hall meeting on September 7, 2017

Paul Wellman

Sheriff Brown offered several explanations as to why Santa Barbara County Jail might receive a seemingly disproportion number of ICE requests. First, he said, California is the most populous border state. Second, some counties such as Los Angeles have many correctional facilities, which would distribute the number of ICE requests across those local agencies, he added. That would make them all appear lower on the list of the top 100 compiled by TRAC Immigration.

He added that ICE has more resources in Santa Barbara County than other areas. Both the Santa Maria ICE field office and the Lompoc federal prison are located here. “Chances are they can get to our facility sooner,” he said.

TRAC Immigration obtained the information after suing the Department of Homeland Security when the federal agency failed to provide the public records requested.

An ICE spokesperson claimed the agency only tracks detainers by region. In the Los Angeles region, made up of seven counties, ICE placed nearly 18,000 detainers from last October through June.

Though Santa Barbara County Jail has just a tiny fraction of those detainer requests, UC Davis law professor Holly Cooper said Santa Barbara County is “one of the most watched counties in the nation in terms of how it is [dealing with] immigrants” due to the county’s small population and high TRAC ranking. Cooper, who advises the Santa Barbara County Public Defender’s Office and agencies throughout the state, said Brown’s custody staff has played a very active role in assisting the deportation of immigrants.

Brown does not deny that his agency cooperates with ICE. On Thursday night, immigrant rights activists hounded Brown about this fact at a town-hall meeting held at the Unitarian Society. Brown served on a panel with Frank Rodriguez of CAUSE (Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy) and Rich Sander of Uffizi Order, a nonprofit that advocates for marginalized populations, to discuss Senate Bill 54. The state measure, formally known as the California Values Act, is commonly referred to as the “sanctuary state” bill.

The law was inspired by the Trump administration’s hard line on immigration enforcement. It would limit cooperation between local law enforcement officers and federal ICE agents. The bill passed the State Senate on party lines, and is expected to reach the State Assembly next week. September 15 is the last day for any bill to be passed.

The bill has garnered considerable attention. Last week, supporters rallied in front of Governor Jerry Brown’s house. Proponents include numerous immigrant rights groups, the ACLU of California, and Equality California. Opponents include state associations for police chiefs, the district attorneys, and the Peace Officers Research Association.

The crowd spilled outside the Unitarian Society for the SB 54 town hall meeting.
Paul Wellman

Sheriff Brown, who serves as president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, has led statewide opposition to the bill. “I want to be very clear,” he said in opening remarks. “The Sheriff’s Office does not engage in frontline immigration enforcement. That is the responsibility of the federal government.”

But he charged SB 54 would provide sanctuary to criminals and “recycle” them back into the community “in a way that has not happened.” Brown said the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office works closely with ICE agents on apprehending panga boats smuggling narcotics or people. He also referenced the international street gang MS-13 that police say is responsible for 15 murders in Santa Maria in a 14-month period.

One man from Eastern Europe was recently arrested for rape in Isla Vista, Brown said. Rodriguez asserted such extreme examples criminalize the entire immigrant community. “Frank,” Brown shot back, “it’s an extreme example, but it’s a real example.”

Rodriguez stressed California is on a path to change its values, hence the name of the bill. Given today’s political climate, Brown said he acknowledged this desire but didn’t believe SB 54 was the right way to achieve that goal. “We don’t want that done at the expense of the people we are sworn to protect,” he said.

Brown claimed Senate leader Kevin de León met with him just once to discuss potential compromises. “He didn’t give us the courtesy you are giving us tonight,” he said. A spokesperson from de León’s office declined to comment.

The conversation delved into Trump’s recent decision to end the DACA program, which issues work permits to certain young undocumented individuals. “DACA is a very fluid situation,” Brown said, adding the program was never permanent in the first place. “Congress really has to adopt something.”

Throughout the evening, Brown was on defense. Audience members occasionally interrupted him with critical comments, and applauded many remarks made by Rodriguez, who said he is the son of immigrants.

For his part, Brown noted when he first ran for Sheriff about 11 years ago, his opponent, who was the incumbent, thought sheriff’s deputies should be enforcement for immigration laws. Brown said he thought that was a terrible idea. “We won’t have the trust of the people we serve.”

A brief candlelight vigil following the Unitarian Society's town hall meeting to discuss Senate Bill 54
Paul Wellman


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.