Board of Supervisors and Assemblyman Rob Bonta ask sheriff to expand sanctuary policy
Hundreds marched through downtown Oakland on Tuesday demanding that Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern end his department’s cooperation with federal immigration agents.
Community members at the demonstration were urging Ahern to have an open dialogue about addressing new immigration priorities under President Donald Trump’s administration with local advocacy groups already working with the most vulnerable communities.
According to local immigrant advocacy groups, the sheriff’s department continues to grant Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers access to county jails at a time when other Bay Area sanctuary counties have not for years.
“The community doesn’t want Alameda County taking part in mass deportations,” said Kitzia Esteva-Martinez, immigrant rights organizer with Causa Justa: Just Cause.
“We want to make sure that (Ahern) is not participating in any form of policing that comes from the federal government,” she said.
Currently, ICE receives an automatic notification on a federal database when somebody who is a “priority” for deportation is booked in jail. Unlike many other counties in the country, Alameda County deputies do not personally notify immigration agents about who they have arrested, part of its sanctuary policy.
If ICE chooses to act upon the automatic notification, it will either send an officer to the jail or ask for a “voluntary request for notification” to learn when the person is scheduled to be released so that they can be picked up.
Since the California TRUTH Act took effect in January of this year, local law enforcement is now required to tell immigrant detainees their rights to have an attorney present and that detainees are not required to speak to ICE agents before agents come to visit jails.
Alameda County complies with this law, Sheriff Ahern told the Post.
“It’s my opinion that the TRUTH Act had a major impact on the way in which ICE conducts investigations, and they no longer come into our jails on a daily basis as they did in the past,” said Ahern.
“The (county) Sheriff’s Department doesn’t do immigration enforcement whatsoever. It’s not our job, and we’re not involved,” he said.
But while the TRUTH Act has given arrested individuals clarity on the potential risks they might face due to their immigration status, community members believe that the county needs to do more to assert its non-cooperation with federal immigration policing.
For example, counties like San Francisco and Santa Clara do not allow ICE agents to enter their jails at all.
Eileen Hirst, chief of staff of the SF Sheriff’s Department, told the Post that ICE has not entered their jails in over 20 years.
San Francisco also does not respond to “voluntary requests for notification” unless the person in question passes certain criteria, such as having a violent felony conviction in the past seven years while being held to answer on a current felony charge, she said.
Even then, individuals are subject to an evaluation of their character by the department before it can honor ICE’s request.
Under Trump’s administration, federal immigration policies have been granted new priority enforcements so broad that someone who is arrested for a crime could potentially face the same risks of deportation as someone who has a past felony conviction.
Setting up criteria such as the SF Sheriff’s Department’s could serve to shield arrested immigrants with past minor offenses who may soon be on a broadened “priority” list for deportation.
Advocacy groups argue that Alameda County taking such a proactive step could also help build the relationship between immigrant communities and local law enforcement.
“Families are afraid to report crimes and instances of domestic violence to the police because they are afraid of deportations,” said Silvia Lopez, a workers rights organizer with Mujeres Unidas y Activas.
“The sheriff and county police must stop their entanglement with ICE,” said Lopez.