Drastic Drop in ICE Pickups in Santa Barbara County

61 Percent Decrease in ICE Pickups From 2018-2019

Sheriff Bill Brown | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Thirty-eight undocumented immigrants were detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Santa Barbara County in 2019.

The number was reported Tuesday as part of an annual Truth Report, which is mandated by law to “provide information to the public about ICE’s access to individuals and to receive and consider public comment.” As it turns out, 38 was a drastic drop from the year before. In 2018 there were 98 “ICE pickups” in Santa Barbara — a 61 percent decrease from 2019 to 2018.

“I have good friends and neighbors who are genuinely afraid of law enforcement,” said Landon Ranck, a lifelong resident of Santa Barbara who spoke with 14 others at public comment. “They are afraid of the repercussions that any sort of interaction with law enforcement could have because of potential connections with ICE…. We’ve seen precedence for this in Los Angeles. They’ve halted all transfers to ICE and we as a county can do that.”

But despite a dozen or so speakers demanding that the Sheriff’s Office cut ties with ICE, it won’t be happening under Sheriff Bill Brown’s watch. He explained that only those with the worst felony charges are normally “picked up,” and that undocumented immigrants who only commit minor offenses like petty theft, marijuana possession, or other misdemeanors are not picked up.

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Brown explained that when an undocumented immigrant is arrested, they are fingerprinted just as a citizen would be. The fingerprints are sent as a notification to ICE, where a decision is made whether or not to pick up that person from the Santa Barbara County Jail. Brown  produced a list showing the crimes immigrants have been charged with committing and how some had been arrested as many as 20 times for the same crimes,  but had never been detained by ICE. 

“As you can see from this list, many of these people are not debutants,” Brown said. “They have a lengthy track record of offending in our community in a variety of different ways. And as I’ve pointed out a number of times before, they offend predominantly against other people of color. It is to protect them (immigrants) that we are trying to achieve the balance that we believe we have achieved.”

But based on the comments by the public who spoke, Brown has more work to do if he hopes to have community buy-in. Nearly all speakers said they were unsatisfied with the report and demanded Brown go further to earn the trust of immigrants and people of color by severing ties with ICE.

1st District Supervisor Das Williams seemed to find a balance of his own.

“I want to thank the Sheriff’s Office for the 300 and odd ones that they did not hold for ICE, because that is progress and shows that you are attempting to look at the criteria and make judgment calls based on the criteria,” Williams said. “I would not have trust in the system if the numbers were zero because I realize there are shot callers or folks that you think are a true danger to society. But — I do think that our numbers should be lower.”

The supervisor who sided with Brown the most was 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam, often the most outspoken conservative on the board. 

“Lewd acts with a child, terrorism, DUIs,” Adam said, citing several of the charges against undocumented immigrants in 2019. “It’s not that those things don’t happen here, but you have some people that are not supposed to be here who are committing those acts. If we can get those people off the streets, or out of the country frankly, I think that’s just good public policy and good safety efforts by the Sheriff’s Department and ICE.”

Brown said he expects that the 2020 report will show even fewer ICE pickups, considering that the County Jail population hit record lows and minor offenders were not arrested and held in custody to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks. 

“The notion that we are turning over people to ICE for minor violations is simply not true because those people are not in our jail to begin with any longer,” Brown said. “The reality is that we really incarcerate — and even more so in the COVID era — people with felony charges.”

The supervisors requested that the next 2020 report be given earlier in the year.

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