Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones tried to convince a skeptical, rowdy crowd last week that he is not in the business of deporting undocumented immigrants. With the head of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency standing by his side, Jones told more than 400 people at a public forum on immigration that he has “a tremendous amount of empathy” for undocumented immigrants.
As evidence, Jones said his deputies never conduct immigration sweeps or ask for proof of citizenship from anyone they encounter. And under questioning from Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, Jones said his department would not enter into an agreement with the federal government to designate his deputies as de facto immigration agents.
“We don’t do immigration enforcement,” Jones told reporters afterward. “We never have, we never will.”
Yet for all his assurances, there is still one way Jones’ department ventures into the sensitive world of immigration enforcement: The Sheriff’s Department maintains a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, to house dozens of undocumented immigrants at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, a jail in Elk Grove that the department operates. The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the contract in June 2013, and it runs through June 30, 2018.
Jones’ department receives $100 each day per inmate from the federal government, receiving a maximum of $30.1 million over the five-year contract. The number of detainees housed at the jail on what are known as ICE “holds” varies, but generally hovers around 150 people a day. Those inmates face federal deportation charges and have typically been transferred by ICE to Rio Cosumnes from another jail.
In addition to the contract, the Sheriff’s Department also allows ICE agents access to data and inmates at both Rio Cosumnes and the Sacramento Main Jail downtown. The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute estimates that 300,000 of the roughly 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally have felony convictions.
Many at the immigration forum booed when Jones mentioned his cooperation with ICE at the jails. But the sheriff said he does not “have any desire to get rid of (the contract with ICE) anytime soon.”
“There are very bad actors, there are very dangerous violent career criminals, some of which are undocumented,” Jones said. “If ICE cannot get them in our jail, they are not going to lose interest. ICE is going to go into our communities to find those folks and create the very types of neighborhood sweeps that you folks here are trying to avoid.”
It is unclear how many of the ICE inmates at Rio Cosumnes have been convicted of serious crimes.
Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna said he has not determined his vote on potentially extending the contract “a year in advance without hearing the rationale.” However, given the Trump administration’s directive to greatly expand the number of undocumented immigrants targeted for deportation, he said he has serious concerns about the agreement.
“The one thing that is not going to change (before the contract needs to be reviewed) is that you are going to have an administration that issues the kind of rhetoric it does about using ICE in new and, in my opinion, draconian ways to strike fear into the hearts of immigrants,” said Serna, who voted to approve the 2013 contract. “I’m personally not interested in advancing any ability locally to arm the administration’s continued fear-mongering.”
Jones said the money he receives from ICE is relatively small, given a department budget in excess of $400 million. And he said his intentions have very little to do with money.
“More importantly, it allows (ICE inmates) to stay in Sacramento that are near to their family and support structure,” he said. “If I didn’t have this contract, don’t think that ICE would simply let everyone out of our jail. They would go to all four corners of the state and these families would have a much more difficult time being in contact with their loved ones and families.”
The Sacramento agreement is one of six public ICE jails in California, from Marysville to Calexico. The agency also houses inmates at four privately operated jails in the state, according to its database.
The sheriff’s agreement with ICE would likely end with the passage of Senate Bill 54, authored by state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, which would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. The bill passed the state Senate Monday and now heads to the Assembly.
Even in the face of such resistance in California, acting ICE head Thomas Homan told the Sacramento forum that jails are “the best place” to apprehend undocumented immigrants.
“We would like to do it in the secure privacy and safety of a county jail,” Homan said. “But if we can’t do that, and I have no cooperation with the sheriff, then we are forced to go to someone’s home, to someone’s employment.”