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Trust or Terror? ICE Critics Speak Out

Santa Barbara Sheriff Defends Need for Federal Immigration Contacts

Critics argued the Sheriff’s Office should curtail work with federal immigration agents. | Credit: Len Wood, Santa Maria Times

From 2017 and 2018, contacts went down by 21 percent between agents with ICE ​— ​the Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch of Homeland Security ​— ​and the Santa Barbara County Jail over undocumented inmates. In addition, 72 percent fewer undocumented inmates ​— ​from 351 to 98 ​— ​were picked up by federal authorities and taken into custody. But for a majority of Santa Barbara County supervisors, who are mindful of the increased fear immigration agents have instilled in immigrant communities during the Trump administration, that was beyond their comfort levels.

Supervisors Das Williams, Joan Hartmann, and Gregg Hart all expressed concern at Tuesday’s meeting that any interaction between the Sheriff’s Office and ICE would undermine the trust local law enforcement must maintain with the immigrant community in order to better serve the entire community. “Local law enforcement is being corrupted into a larger system of vilifying immigrants,” Hartmann stated.

Sheriff Bill Brown, who delivered an annual report on his office’s involvement with ICE as state law mandates, countered that even if 99 percent of immigrants “are basically good, hardworking people,” there’s still a small percentage “who prey on members of the community and disproportionately on the immigrant community.” Brown highlighted 10 of the 98, whom he said included child molesters and arsonists. Supervisors Hart and Williams wanted to know what crimes the other 88 had been held for and pointedly pressed Brown to provide more complete details next year, when he’s legally obligated to hold the next public hearing. Brown added that 60 of the 98 were held on felony charges, 41 had been held three times, 25 five times, and four 20 times or more. Twenty-three, he said, had been deported before.

Of the 14 members of the public who spoke, 11 argued the county should have no interaction with ICE. Many noted the free summer food programs for youth experienced a 50 percent drop-off this year; they ascribed this to increased fears of deportation. Almost all cited ICE’s much-televised detention centers for kids along the border. Unitarian minister Julia Hamilton termed ICE “an untrustworthy partner.”

Andy Caldwell of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture & Business, better known as COLAB, blasted the speakers addressing immigrant rights, charging they were defending wife beaters and child molesters. Anna Rosa Ricco Santino shot back that ICE had become the ultimate child molester: “When did we as a country stop caring about what happens to the children?” she demanded.

The only supervisor to defend ICE was Peter Adam, who stated, “I’m really disappointed we’re trying to spin respect for the rule of law as hate.” Supervisor Hartmann noted that Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties have chosen not to interact with ICE at all. Sheriff Brown insisted that Homeland Security helped county law enforcement with narcotics and panga boat investigations. It was Brown’s meeting and Brown’s report, and the supervisors ultimately had no say.

A majority noted that many members of the most affected communities were either working or in school and could not attend a late-morning supervisors’ meeting: Would Brown think about hosting meetings at times more conducive to working immigrants? Brown said his door was always open and people were “welcome to contact my office.”

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