SANTA MARIA, Calif. - The number of Santa Barbara County Jail inmates ICE detained in 2018 has decreased by 70 percent from the previous year, according to newly released data by Sheriff Bill Brown.
During a public forum in Santa Maria on Tuesday, Brown discussed his agency's shifting collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since the implementation of the California Truth Act in 2017.
The Truth Act gives immigrants in California jails the right to know when ICE requests to interview them, and the right to say no. Before the law was enacted, many immigrants in custody were seldom notified that a detainer request had been placed upon them, which made it harder to fight deportation.
“We used to hold people for an ICE detention request, but we've been told that's been deemed unconstitutional," said Brown.
In his presentation, Brown detailed the ICE notification process after an undocumented inmate is booked. He explained the department does not ask about a person's immigration status, but federal agents have access to fingerprint records from the Department of Justice.
“If ICE is interested in obtaining information regarding a person in our custody, they will notify our Custody Records Bureau via fax," said Brown.
Custody Records staff will manually research the inmate's criminal history to determine if there are any exceptions under the law that will allow the Sheriff's Office to share a person's release date with immigration officials.
A number of serious crimes fall under those exceptions.
“Assault with a deadly weapon resulting in great bodily injury, the infliction of an injury on a child, battery on a spouse, sexual battery," said Brown.
Domestic violence, rape of a minor, and kidnapping also fall under that category. In 2018, ICE picked up 98 undocumented immigrants who got arrested for these, and other serious crimes, in Santa Barbara County.
Brown says ICE also requested information about 414 inmates in 2018. The year before that, the agency requested information about 526 foreign inmates, detaining 351.
“This number represents a drop of 72 percent from the previous year," said Brown.
Of the 98 detained in 2018:
- 65 had a past felony conviction
- 23 had been previously deported or voluntarily returned to their country after being detained by ICE
- 41 had been incarcerated 3 or more times in SB County Jail
- 25 had been incarcerated 5 or more times in SB County Jail
- 4 had been incarcerated 10 or more times in SB County Jail
“Although 99 percent of the people who are here, undocumented, I think are basically good people, there is a small group, there is a part of that group that are not good people," said Brown.
“These are the people we do not want in our community," one Santa Maria resident, Linda Tunnell, said during public comment. "I don't want them in my neighborhood, my children's neighborhood."
“I think that the Sheriff should cooperate fully with ICE," another public speaker, Richard Dydell said.
“When you look at me I hope you see Marilyn Pharis of Lompoc," Denise Adams, who spoke during public comment from Santa Barbara, said. "She was the same age as me when she was hammered, raped, and left for murdered."
Pharis was killed by an undocumented immigrant in 2015.
Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam agreed with some in the audience.
"They’re illegal aliens and if ICE wants to deport them, I think that’s reasonable," he said. "There are federal rules and the Sheriff is cooperating."
But First District Supervisor Das Williams says sharing too much information with ICE hurts community trust.
“For me, the most important thing is to make sure that the public at large and the immigrant community trust us enough to share information, trust us enough to report crimes," he said. "Law-abiding people out there are scared, and I think part of our challenge is to protect those communities --but at the same time signal to them that we are not an appendage of this federal government effort to strike fear in our neighbors.”
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann echoed Williams' sentiment, saying "immigrants are vilified in the national platform," and saying the crime stats presented by Brown should not be used to describe the entire immigrant community in the region.
“We look at this and it’s the worst of the worst, but it’s a very small percentage," she said.
For community organizers like Frank Rodriguez, "Even that 1% is part of our community."
Rodriguez and other immigrant advocates at the meeting said those with a criminal record deserve a second chance.
“People should be rehabilitated," Ana Rosa Risos Sentinos of Food and Water Action said. "They shouldn't be thrown in a cage or deported without thought to how they're gonna be reintegrated into the community.”
Sheriff Brown reiterated it's not his department's job to enact immigration law, but said it is their responsibility to protect the public. The Sheriff told Supervisors the latest numbers show his agency has struck a balance between the two issues.
The Public Policy Institute of California sets the number of undocumented immigrants in Santa Barbara County at more than 41,000 people.